On the first weekend of play for College of Charleston’s volleyball team, No. 4 entered the match against the N.C. State Wolfpack and put down an impressive eight kills. Who was No. 4, though?
She was not one of the faces fans were familiar with in the front line, but junior Emily Neideffer made an impression immediately, and has been making an impact ever since.
Emily came to Charleston two years ago after leading her high school squad to back-to-back 4A state championships in North Carolina, but the move south just felt natural.
“I had never heard of the school until I got here. First visit, I fell in love with (the city) and just kind of couldn’t resist,” said Neideffer.
For the past two seasons Emily has served the team in her own way, providing inspiration from the bench and never taking an opportunity to get in the match for granted.
“Everyone has always known me to be that super energetic, intense player,” she said. “I’ve had that role on the bench the last two years and I have it on the court when I get in. That’s how I play and you’re not really going to get anything different from me. I feel like my positive energy is my way of contributing to our team.”
Coach Jason Kepner discussed what makes Emily an asset to the Cougar squad, “Emily goes hard and gives you everything she’s got. She won’t ever quit on a play.”
Now that Emily has found her way into the starting lineup, things are changing for her, but she never fails to attribute her success, in part, to someone else.
“My work ethic has always been something I really strive for, but I think it helped that we had a couple of positions open up this year. (Head volleyball coach) Jason (Kepner) has always used me as his versatile utility player. I can play outside, I can play right side, I can play middle. It’s just kind of funny because I didn’t think I would be playing middle, whatsoever,” she said, laughing as she reflects on the season so far.
“We’ve adjusted things to accent what I’m better at and altered how we run things. It’s been very helpful to me in (finding) success.”
Neideffer is not quite satisfied with her game as of yet, even though she has tallied 78 kills already this season, the third best on the squad, and has the second highest hitting percentage on the team at .286. She responds immediately and enthusiastically on what she wants to work on.
“Blocking! Blocking. Hitting, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on, but (blocking is) one aspect of my game I really need to step up,” she said. “We work on it in practice a lot and it has improved every weekend for me. I’m figuring new things out each time we’re in practice or on the court.”
As for Emily’s move to the middle, Coach Kepner talked about his decision, “Emily was a middle in high school and club, I knew she had some experience in the position and one of her strengths is turning the ball around both sides of the block. Putting her in the middle with one blocker usually plays to her strengths.”
Always a team player, Neideffer geared a question about her personal aspirations back to a comment on the strength and wellbeing of the squad:
“I just want to keep positively impacting the team and be support if need be, or be whatever the team needs. You know, I don’t want to be in the spotlight. I don’t want that. The last few years it wasn’t my time and whatever I was needed to be, I want to be that.”
Last spring the Cougars took part in the first season of NCAA-sanctioned sand volleyball, and Neideffer was a member of the inaugural squad.
“It was challenging but it was fun. It was very different,” she said. “I was a little skeptical to begin with but the closer and closer it came, it’s a nice break. It’s just a totally different vibe and it’s more laid back.”
Emily may say sand was more laid back, but her workouts must not have been.
“It definitely helped my vertical: I went up like four inches within the season, so that was nice,” she commented with a smile.
“With beach you really have to work on seeing the court and being able to read other players and make shots and smart plays. So I think it has helped my mental game a lot,” Emily said about the switch to the outdoor game, but she’s not sold on it entirely, yet.
“I prefer indoor. I like beach but with indoor it’s much easier to get that energy and excitement which I feed off of. In beach you’re just trying to stay alive in the middle of every play.”
Looking forward to the spring sand season, Emily is eager to see what happens with this season’s larger and more experienced team.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen because we’ve got 14 carrying over so that’s going to be at least four people not playing every weekend. I think it’s going to be more competitive. I don’t know how we’re going to work it; I think that’s something the coaches are still trying to figure out but it will definitely be more competitive between us.”
Not only has Emily worked her way into the starting lineup, but in the Kansas’ Jayhawk Invitational she received her first individual award of her collegiate career, being named to the all-tournament team after tallying a career-high 14 kills. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great weekend for the Cougars, who went 1-2 against tough national competition in the tournament.
Emily spoke warmly of her achievement, but tinged it with a shadow of regret that her efforts did not lead to more team success.
“It was great; “It was a really good feeling. I felt very satisfied with my performance but at the same time not to take away from it, but I wish we could have done better as a team. I wish I could take it away, if it meant us doing better, but it was an honor. It was a pleasant surprise.”