GRUNDY CENTER — It takes a lot to catch Emerson Kracht off guard on the volleyball court these days.
The 5-foot-11 junior setter and outside hitter has helped Class 2A’s top-ranked Grundy Center open the season 14-0 by making an imprint through nearly every skill the sport has to offer. She’s recorded long service runs, timely blocks, clutch digs and big kills, while also feeding teammates with steady set assists.
“I love being able to do different things on the court,” Kracht said. “If I’m struggling at one area, I always make sure that the other areas, I can pick those parts up. ... It helps me kind of calm down.”
Kracht’s versatile skill set is the result of a surprising challenge she received at the start of her freshman season. Spartans coach Lori Willis saw an opportunity for Kracht to earn immediate varsity court time as a right side hitter, while also spending the year training with the junior varsity team to become a setter.
The girl who played in the school’s youth volleyball program from fourth grade and competed against national competition with the CIA club team beginning in junior high entered high school with no setting experience. Willis, however, noticed good hands, beautiful footwork and the potential for Kracht to be the second setter in a 6-2 rotation that would accentuate the talent and height within her program.
“She thought I was crazy,” Willis recalls. “She didn’t see the same vision us as coaches saw for her.
“What she quickly realized is that she was capable of learning a new position and bringing so much value to the team. She completely bought in. She put in extra time with me working on setting. She really listens and wants to be the best that she can.”
Once she got over the initial shock, Kracht was intrigued by the new challenge.
“I was definitely interested in it because I knew it would be an opportunity for me to play,” Kracht said. “It (setting) has been a little more of an opportunity to grow than hitting just because I haven’t done it as long. This past year I’ve been more confident in my setting skills, but when I first started it was a little rough.”
Support from senior setter Sydney Mathews has enhanced Kracht’s development.
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“We really help each other out when it comes to setting,” Kracht said. “We talk to each other about what we need to improve on, what we’re doing good. We have a really good relationship so that we can learn more from each other.”
The setter’s viewpoint has also helped Kracht become a more knowledgeable outside hitter.
“Everyone knows that the setter is kind of the quarterback of the volleyball team,” Willis said. “They have to make a lot of decisions based on where the pass is, who the hitters are, what their weaknesses are, and also counteract what is on the other side of the net. She has such respect for all the positions because she’s played so many positions.”
After setting and playing right side as a sophomore on Grundy Center’s state semifinal team last season, Kracht is among the team leaders in a variety of statistical categories as a setter and outside hitter this year. She joins seniors Kylie Willis and Hailey Wallis with an average of over two kills per set, while leading the team in blocking, service attempts and aces.
Last weekend, Kracht put together a series of three impressive digs during a highlight-reel point against Wapsie Valley, and she served her team back into the match against West Delaware as the Spartans captured a tournament title in Parkersburg.
A junior on a battle-tested team with four seniors in its main rotation, Kracht is part of a team that welcomes competition. The Spartans have remained perfect despite dropping a set in four matches.
“There’s definitely been a big difference in how others are playing us,” Kracht said, addressing the target that accompanies a No. 1 ranking. “We see the competition has gone up and we love that because it’s just getting us more prepared for the future and helping us get better.”
The junior is receiving interest at multiple positions from college volleyball programs and is driven to help secure the school’s first state title.
“We don’t have it ingrained in our minds that we’re ranked number one and we don’t have to work for anything,” Kracht said. “We have to earn it and we have a long ways to go.”