Junior volleyball star Emma McDermott spikes her way to the future

Sam Kimball

“I was not expecting that call to be ‘the call.’ Right after I got the offer and hung up the phone, I ran downstairs and [said to my family], ‘Guys I got an offer.’ I couldn’t believe it. It was one of the craziest moments of my life,” junior Emma McDermott, University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) women’s volleyball commit, said. 

McDermott, an outside hitter on the girls’ varsity volleyball team, has been playing club volleyball since fifth grade, choosing to play at a more competitive level in seventh grade. Although quitting soccer and gymnastics was a difficult decision to make, she was ecstatic to direct her attention to the sport she felt truly passionate about. 

Ursula Gruenert, the Redwood girls’ varsity volleyball coach, first met McDermott in eighth grade when she coached her on an Absolute Volleyball club team. Gruenert has seen McDermott’s development first hand and has enjoyed coaching her throughout the years.

Announcing her commitment to UCSB, Emma McDermott shows off her spirit. (Photo courtesy of Emma McDermott)

“When I met McDermott in 2018, she was 5’6” and super scrawny, but I saw something special in her,” Gruenert said. “I saw a deep passion and determination that is hard to find. The year I started coaching her in club, she transitioned from a back row player to the front row, which was a big step.”

After eighth grade, McDermott decided to continue her volleyball career at Redwood, joining the junior varsity (JV) team as a freshman. Despite not being on Gruenert’s varsity team, McDermott was a stand out player, contributing to her team both on and off the court. 

Senior Sophia Shaw was a part of the JV team with McDermott and remembers the passion she played with. 

“While I was not very close to her, [McDermott] was always fun to be around and always played with a passion that blew me away,” Shaw said. “She was committed and came everyday to develop her skills and to get better.”

At the start of her sophomore year, McDermott made the varsity team. As she started to work with Grunert once again, her goal became focused towards sharpening her skills to meet the demands of playing on varsity. Shaw moved to the varsity team with her and noticed improvement from the year before despite a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During our time on the JV team, McDermott was one of the strongest hitters, but coming back after the COVID-19 break, she had improved so much,” Shaw said. “She was our best hitter and was the outside that played all around. She was crazy good.”

As this season began, McDermott’s bond with Shaw became stronger, influencing her attitude towards the game. Throughout the volleyball team’s record breaking season, McDermott contributed with game changing kills and blocks combined with a positive mindset that shifted the team’s overall play. Shaw believes that McDermott has been a crucial piece to the team’s 2021 state championship victory, especially with the optimism and collaboration that she brings.

“Even when Emma makes a mistake, she turns around, smiles, and moves on,” Shaw said. “It is so important in volleyball to stay positive because I think volleyball is a mental sport. She is a positive player and has been such a great teammate.”

Jumping in the air for an incoming pass, Emma McDermott prepares to spike the ball during the CIF Championships. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Shaw)

Having one more year at Redwood, McDermott is ecstatic about being able to bond with her teammates as well as grow into a better volleyball player.

“I have a lot to improve on before I get to UCSB so this year will allow me to do that,” McDermott said. “I am excited to see what we can do this coming year with the returning players, and I look forward to spending some time with friends while playing highly competitive volleyball.”

On June 15, 2021, high school volleyball players from around the country were allowed to start talking to colleges about recruiting. McDermott was talking to coaches, sending emails, calling representatives—and doing it all by herself. She was not sure that she would be granted an offer but wanted to try the recruiting process —and it paid off. After countless hours of hard work and many phone conversations, McDermott was offered a spot on the UCSB volleyball team and believes the school fits her hopes for both her education and volleyball career. She looks forward to what UCSB has to offer and what the future holds.

“I am very much looking forward to having such an intense team and environment,” McDermott said. “I can’t wait to have that shared love of volleyball with a whole new group of players that I can bond with. If five years ago I was told that I would go to UCSB for volleyball, I would not believe it. I am proud of the work that I have put in so far and am so excited for Redwood volleyball next year and then continuing at UCSB the year after.”