Emery Herman came to Arizona volleyball to be the setter of the future. After the graduation of Julia Patterson following the 2019-20 season, it was Herman’s job from day one. For a freshman, it was a big ask. Now in her sophomore season, Herman is a well-rounded player, but she’s still working on the skills it takes to be a great setter at the highest level of college volleyball.
“She’s one of our best servers,” head coach Dave Rubio said. “She’s one of our best defenders. She’s a terrific blocker. Still, her setting hasn’t caught up with the rest of her skills yet. Setting is still the thing that she’s probably the furthest behind, and I think she recognizes that. We’re working on it every single day with her. And the best attribute that she has by far is just her even keel. You gotta have that in that position. We can’t have a setter that just gets so flustered and frustrated, doesn’t understand. But she’s so even keel she keeps the team even keel.”
Last season, Herman was a big part of the class that came in ranked No. 7 by long-time prep volleyball evaluator John Tawa. At the time, Rubio said that they got “the setter we wanted.” Signing a player from the state of Texas wasn’t business as usual for Arizona.
“It’s kind of funny, Dave said that he had never really gotten a Texas kid before,” she said. “So they saw me at nationals I think my eighth-grade year or freshman year, and they were like, ‘oh we can’t get a Texas kid.’ Never talked to me. I never even thought about Arizona. I’ve never known anyone to go to Arizona or anything. And then they were talking to another setter. She didn’t end up coming. So like, ‘Alright, let’s try.’”
It was worth the chance. Herman said she fell in love with the program as soon as she came for her official visit. Arizona alumna Paige Whipple was a huge influence.
“The coaches were just awesome,” Herman said. “They’re super nice, super welcoming. I think a big part of it was Paige Whipple. She was here, and she was just awesome to me. We’re still really close, became best friends last year.”
Herman graduated early from high school and arrived in Tucson for the spring semester in 2020, but her hopes to get a jump on her college development were disrupted by the pandemic. Not only did practice and in-person classes come to a stop, but the 2020 fall season was postponed until the spring of 2021.
Some of Herman’s development is centered on putting her setting first. Prior to coming to college, she was often an attacker more than a setter. On a few occasions during her freshman season, Rubio ran a 6-2 system with two setters to try to help her make the transition. But he has always reverted to the 5-1 system that the program has run for 28 of his 30 years at the helm.
“She was a hitter-setter,” Rubio said. “So her mindset has gotten different. She’s a setter first versus being a hitter first and then a setter... She would be one of our best hitters if...we decided to run a 6-2 and she was hitting as well.”
She is still a very offensive-minded setter. That was apparent even during her freshman season last spring, but Rubio said it has developed more this year. Last season, she ended the year with 0.81 kills per set and a .200 hitting percentage. So far this year, she is contributing 1.14 k/s at a much more efficient .403 hitting percentage.
The setting still has a ways to go for Herman. As a former setter, Rubio knows it’s not an easy task. In his estimation, setter and outside hitter are the two most complicated positions to play. For the setter, it comes down to the mental part of the game as much as the physical part.
“It’s like a quarterback going through the reads and...not looking down the receiver, of being able to see what receivers open, and go your first pick, your second pick, your third pick,” Rubio said. “And then the reality of being able to throw the ball. For Emery, it’s the same thing. It’s the ability to recognize who’s the best person to set based on the pass, based on who the blockers are on the other side, and then being able to get her feet there and set the ball in a position that’s attackable so we can score.”
As she advances through her college career with the other members of her highly-regarded recruiting class, Rubio believes she will hone those skills. He knows that she has to if the team is going to reach its goals.
“I think that Emery at this point has gotten a much better idea about this selection process,” Rubio said. “And sometimes she thinks so much about it that it affects the way that she locates the ball, so she’s just a little bit late to the ball, too. So, as a team, we’re so young that we’re not playing without thinking. We’re playing with thinking first and then reacting. And when you get to the point like the teams that we’re playing against and have played against, where they’re older, and then they play and react without thinking. And that’s kind of where we want to get to but we’re just not there yet.”
Herman and Rubio agree that it will take extra commitment by the players to get there.
“I think there’s a lot of stuff off the grid that we need to do,” Herman said. “Watch film, put in extra time, realize that we can’t take the excuse of being young anymore. We just need to step up and execute.”