As she sits down for an interview, she looks oddly nervous and confident at the same time.
This is a woman who is one of the best at what she does: scoring points. If she played football she’d be second in the country in touchdown passes. If she played basketball she’d be second in scoring. If she played baseball she’d be second in RBIs and home runs. If any of those happened on this campus, the person responsible would be swarmed by a crowd of rowdy autograph-seekers around the clock, but Emily Stroup is not.
That’s the way she likes it.
I ask her when she started playing volleyball, which catches her off guard.
“Oh, this is about me?”
Where others might seek the spotlight and complain about their team’s lack of success, Stroup instead focuses on what she can do to make the team better. Her mind is always set on how she can improve the team’s chances at winning and, ultimately, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
Emily Stroup never thought she’d be where she is right now. All around her, coaches, teammates and analysts sing her praises and say she is not only one of the best volleyball players in the SEC but one of the best in the country.
She has shattered school records and surged to the top of the leaderboards in nearly every possible attacking statistic. She finished second in the country in kills (583), second in points (639), third in attacks (1517) and top 10 in points and kills per set. She has fifteen double-doubles, and was selected to the All-SEC team following the season.
However, she treats these accolades as if they are nuisances that simply get in the way of what she wants to talk about: the team. That’s all she ever wanted to talk about.
Stroup, a native of Fargo, North Dakota, began playing volleyball at a very young age, hitting the ball around in her backyard and outside of gyms while her older sisters played matches inside.
“I started playing volleyball competitively when I was 11 or 12, but my sisters had grown up playing volleyball,” she said. “They’re 12 and eight years older than me, so I’ve always grown up playing. I’ve been playing my entire life.”
Stroup was a two-sport athlete at Fargo South High School, receiving offers to play both basketball and volleyball at the collegiate level. She was First Team All-State in volleyball from 2013-2014 and was named to the North Dakota State All-Tournament team in 2013 and 2014. She also set a record with 74 kills in the 2013 state tournament as a sophomore.
Ole Miss volleyball head coach Steven McRoberts knew that he had a strong player coming out of high school but says not even he realized the kind of potential that Stroup possessed.
“I would be lying if I said I saw this much in her. We thought she would be a very good player for our program, and I’m just really proud of her that she’s developed the way that she has. Most of that is on her because she’s put the work in,” McRoberts said.
Teammates are quick to praise Stroup and speak highly of her skills both as a player and a leader in the locker room.
“Emily is a great leader. … She leads mostly by example in what she does on and off the floor,” junior defensive specialist Nicole Purcell said. “She also brings a lot of energy to our team. If we’re struggling with things, she’s always communicating with us and trying to find ways to solve the problem and get better.”
For a program with no real history of success, having a player put together such an immaculate season is worthy of celebration, and coaches are also quick to praise Stroup for her hard work and dedication to the game.
“She’s always one (who is) willing to come in and do extra work, even after a long weekend where she’s jumped a lot, hit a lot. She’ll be one of the first ones in after our day off on Monday, saying ‘Hey, can I get some extra reps in?’” McRoberts said.
Stroup’s success does not come from just her physical work, and those who have played before recognize the work she puts in mentally to prepare for big games. Associate head coach Ronaldo Pacheco, a former professional volleyball player from Brazil, said Stroup knows how to work through pressure.
“(Her work ethic) is amazing,” he said. “It’s not how much she works, it’s the quality of her work and how she prepares mentally. That, I think, is most important.”
That work has paid off with Stroup being recognized as one of the best players in the country. Stroup received her first-ever weekly conference award earlier this season when she was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week. She was also named one of 13 standout players on teams outside the top 25 by NCAA.com.
Stroup is already guaranteed a spot on the All-SEC team and should be considered for one of the AVCA All-American teams and the SEC Player of the Year.
Stroup’s accomplishments do not end on the court. She is an accomplished student who has made both the Dean’s Honor Roll and the Chancellor’s Honor Roll multiple times. She is majoring in communication sciences and disorders and has made it her goal in life to help others.
“She really wants to do well in everything,” sophomore setter Lauren Bars said. “I had a summer class with her this year, and I remember she got like two points off on a test and was so frustrated.”
While she is not sure what sort of career she wants to pursue in the future, Stroup is enjoying the present and ensuring that she makes the best of every opportunity she is given.
“I don’t really know what I want to do,” Stroup said. “I know for sure that I want to go to graduate school. I’ve been thinking a little bit about playing professionally, but I still need to figure all that out. I’m just looking forward, mostly, to my senior year and finishing strong there.”