HILMAR — HILMAR Patti Harris calls Emily Baptista the whole package.
Watching the Yellowjackets sophomore, it’s hard to argue with the Hilmar volleyball coach. Baptista did it all for Hilmar, playing in the front row and back row, to help lead the Yellowjackets to a Trans-Valley League title, a Sac-Joaquin Section title appearance and the NorCal semifinals.
“Emily is really an anomaly,” Harris said. “She’s got everything. She’s got the skill. She’s got the character. She’s a 4.0 student. She’s a team player. She never puts herself above anyone. Sometimes you get a really good player like that and the ego gets out of hand. She has no ego.”
After a stellar season Baptista is the Sun-Star Volleyball Player of the Year.
“I’m really happy with the year we had,” Baptista said. “We worked really hard and I’m happy to get the TVL championship. We knew the playoffs would be tough, but we got to sections. We stayed focused all the way through to UC Davis. We got to compete in NorCals and we found out after we won our first round match we became the first team in any sport at our high school to win a state playoff game.
“We accomplished a lot this year and made a lot of history.”
Baptista played front and back row for Hilmar her freshman season, but wasn’t as comfortable in the back. She worked hard to improve her passing and digging skills while playing club volleyball for The Rage. As a result, she was much more consistent in the back row this year.
“Anyone can play the front row,” Baptista said. “You really define yourself as a player if you can play the back row. It’s much more difficult. You have to know the game to play back there. Being able to play all around there is a lot more pressure.”
When Baptista is in the front row she is dominant. She’s the Yellowjackets go-to player on the outside, finishing seventh in the state at 5.7 kills per set. Baptista was at her best in the biggest games, recording 37 kills in a semifinal win over Bear River and 38 kills in the section finals against Sonora.
“Emily just has it,” Harris said. “She’s a D1 player. She already hits the ball hard, but I tell Emily, ‘Gosh, your muscles haven’t even come in yet.’ She’s very smart when she hits. Sometimes during the game I’ll tell her to hit it here or hit it there and she does it. She can see the court. She sees the opening when she goes up to hit.”
For Baptista, there is a feeling out process during the match. Early in the match she’s looking for holes and by the end of the first game she knows where she wants to attack the defense.
“In the first game it’s a lot more difficult to hit,” Baptista said. “You’re trying to see where to hit the ball. By the second game you know where the holes are.”
At 6-foot-2, Baptista has already drawn interest from colleges. The University of the Pacific has already offered a full-ride scholarship. Texas Christian University has also shown interest. It’s only a matter of time before more colleges come calling for the 15-year-old.
“I really want to play in college and getting college paid for is my goal,” Baptista said. “A lot of volleyball players commit to schools at the end of their sophomore year. This is a big recruiting year for me. It’s really exciting to think about the future.
“It can also be stressful, thinking about what kind of school I might be going to. There’s a lot of big decisions I have to make.”