Prep Signing: South volleyball star Pope proved herself to L-R coach
By Mike London
LANDIS — The first time South Rowan volleyball coach Jan Dowling tried to tell Lenoir-Rhyne coach Dave Markland about Emma Pope, words went in one ear and out the other.
Lenoir-Rhyne was playing at Pfeiffer, and Dowling was on hand to see former South Rowan star Kayla Morrow produce blocks and kills for the Bears. Dowling has known Markland forever, so she arrived at Merner Gym early and tried to talk up Pope.
“If I didn’t think she could play for them, I wouldn’t have said anything,” Dowling said. “You don’t put there name out there unless you believe in them, believe they can play.”
Probably it was when Dowling mentioned that Pope was 5-foot-5, that Markland lost interest — at least temporarily.
But time moved on, and Markland was scouting a local tournament. Most of the standouts were North Iredell girls he knew. But the setter playing with the North Iredell girls, he didn’t recognize. He found out she was from South Rowan. Her name was Pope.
He called Dowling. “Tell me about this Pope girl,” he said. “She’s awesome.”
Dowling laughed. “That’s the girl I tried to tell you about at Pfeiffer,” she said. “That’s the girl, and you’re right, she’s awesome.”
Long story short, Pope, wearing a “Lenoir-Rhyne Rise Up” T-shirt, signed with the Bears on Wednesday.
Pope started very late to be a volleyball star. She was totally into softball (she’s a starting outfielder for South Rowan) and basketball until she was introduced to volleyball as a high school freshman.
“Volleyball became my favorite sport right away,” Pope said. “I never got bored with volleyball. Softball was more of a slow sport. Volleyball was a quick sport.”
The two best adjectives to describe Pope are explosive and intense, so she was well-equipped for volleyball, despite her lack of height.
“She’s a little firecracker,” Dowling said. “Explosive, with a vertical jump in the 20s, and strong for her size. She’s an animal in the weight room.”
Pope was trained as a setter on the jayvees as a freshman.
She was elevated to the varsity as a sophomore, although South still had Nicole Barringer (now an ouststanding player at Averett) to handle sets that year.
After Barringer graduated, Pope has been the setter the past two seasons, and South was able to compete in the NPC, which includes North Iredell, Carson and West Iredell, and would get votes as the state’s toughest 3A league.
“We fought against good teams,” Pope said. “It was tough. We just didn’t have the height some teams had, and you can’t coach height.”
Pope has brought a focus to the gym for games — and practices — that Dowling hasn’t seen very often.
“All business when she steps on the court, and I love that about her,” Dowling said. “Heart of a lion. Pleasure to coach. She has made her team better and everyone on her team better for four years.”
Teammate Lynsey Corriher agreed with Dowling’s scouting report on Pope.
“Emma is an awesome player,” Corriher said. “She’s been a good leader for the program and an all-round great player. It was very hard for anyone to follow Nicole as the setter, but Emma always stepped up well to it.”
Pope has been a member of all-county and all-conference teams, and Dowling believes the best is yet to come.
“I knew her height might hurt her, but I always believed Emma could play at the Division II level, and I’m excited she’s got the chance,” Dowling said. “In 17 years of coaching, I’ve only coached a few girls I would say were greats, but she is definitely one of the greats.”