Fourth-year Emma Griffith’s incredible volleyball journey wasn’t always so clear-cut. Hailing from New York City, Griffith first fell in love with volleyball while playing on beaches with her father. Although not a big volleyball fan himself, he noticed her early aptitude for the sport and encouraged her to play more as she joined her middle school’s volleyball team. She frequently mentions her father as an important influence in her life, quoting his advice that “if there's something in your life that you care about enough, you make it a must and just go do it.”
Soon after, Griffith’s career took off and she began to garner interest from colleges, but UChicago wasn’t initially a top choice for her. Griffith explains that she wanted to “stay in the Northeast, in a smaller liberal arts school. [But] I had sent an email to [UChicago’s] coach, Sharon [Dingman], and asked if she could ever come see me play. And then she ended up seeing me at a tournament in Colorado and then invited me to come visit…[She] ended up offering me a spot. But yeah, it was wild, thinking UChicago wasn't necessarily on my radar. After talking to Sharon, visiting the campus and meeting the team, UChicago was absolutely the place I wanted to be."
On the volleyball team, Griffith is a three-time team captain and stellar setter, holding three of the top ten assist seasons in UChicago’s history and ranking second all-time in assists despite only playing three seasons. She also is an AVCA First Team All-American, a member of the AVCA All-Region team, and a First Team All-UAA. Griffith finished second in the nation in the 2018 season with 1,367 assists. Last year, Griffith was a key reason that the volleyball team ascended to number one in the AVCA DIII national rankings and became major contenders in the NCAA tournament.
Outside of the team, Griffith is a dedicated student, majoring in Law, Letters, and Society. After college, she plans to work at Accenture as a strategy analyst. Griffith is active as the president of the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA), an organization designed to encourage close relationships between female athletes at UChicago in order to promote women’s athletics. Griffith has found many friends through the organization, noting, “we play completely different sports, but sports, it has the same impact on all of us. UChicago’s [WAA] was the first women-only association in the nation, and we emphasize that by giving a space to give female athletes a place to give their voice.”
Griffith has finished three intensive years as a student-athlete but is hungry to achieve more. In 2019, the UChicago women’s volleyball team achieved a 28-4 record, gelling together at just the right time to establish an even stronger team next year. But with the rapid spread of COVID-19, Griffith’s final season will never happen. She admitted that “it took a while to process that we wouldn’t be playing. Unlike the spring sports where the news was just sprung on you, it really took a long time to set in.”
“It's going to take a while adjusting to the shifting identity. Being a student-athlete is a big part of my identity, of my time, and it’s weird to confront that shift in identity from being an athlete. A lot of things come from that. I didn’t know that the last game I played was going to be the last game I ever played, and that has been a hard adjustment,” she added.
While the 2020 season is cancelled due to COVID-19, Griffith and her teammates have been keeping in shape through virtual Zoom training sessions and rigorous workouts. For the first time in eleven months, the volleyball team is practicing, albeit with strict COVID-19 guidelines. Griffith described the return to the courts as an incredible opportunity to be back with many of her friends. “I don’t think there is another group of people who could make a seven-hour bus ride fly by as much as the women on the volleyball team,” she said.
Griffith lauded the sense of community the women’s volleyball program had, noting that all nine fourth years came to practice and competed just as hard as everyone else, despite the fact that they will never play again.
And that is the hard reality that comes with this season. But in the gloom of COVID-19, Emma tries to keep positive: “I feel lucky to be able to play right now. As hard as it is to think about the season we are not getting, I’m grateful to be playing in the one that we do have.”