Volleyball Player of the Year: Clarke a spark for Falcons

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 12, 2023


West’s Emma Clarke 13 goes high vs. South Rowan, photo by Wayne Hinshaw, for the Salisbury Post


By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — On Sunday night, Oct. 29, recently retired West Rowan volleyball coach Jan Dowling was on the critical list, bleeding internally and in a fight for survival after suffering a crushed pelvis in a motorcycle accident.

A couple of days later, off a ventilator and out of the woods, but just getting started on a long recovery process, Dowling was eager to talk about Emma Clarke. She was grabbing a phone away from nurses.

That says a lot about Dowling. It also says a lot about Clarke that someone feels that strongly about her.

“I’ve coached 28 years and Emma is the best athlete I’ve ever coached,” Dowling said. “She was the best volleyball player in a conference with seven good teams. Hands down. She was the best in our county. Hands down.”

There are some strong-willed people at West Rowan. The Falcons weren’t as talented or as experienced as they’ve been lately, but they still turned in an 18-8 season and went 6-1 in county match-ups. Kudos to Clarke, the Post’s Player of the Year, and Dowling, Rowan County Coach of the Year. They made it happen.

“Going into the season, I knew we would have a very young team, a lot of inexperienced girls had big shoes to fill,” Clarke said. “I was determined to step up my game. I wanted to show people that I wasn’t just a softball player who played volleyball. I wanted to show that I was a true volleyball player.”

Mission accomplished.

Clarke made All-Region and likely will be All-State when that team is announced by the NC Volleyball Coaches Association. Clarke led the Falcons in kills, digs, blocks, aces and serve-receives. That’s basically everything but assists. Even Clarke can’t set it to herself.

“In a lot of ways this was a super-hard season for Emma,” Dowling said. “Honestly, she knew that if she was off, then we were done. That’s a lot of pressure, but she handled it. She’s coachable. She listens. She wasn’t off very often.”

Clarke turned the ever-present pressure into laser focus.

She brought it almost every set and almost every match over the course of the season.

“More pressure actually was good for me — there was a lot of personal growth this volleyball season,” Clarke said. “I tried my best to lead and tried to focus and play at a high level all the time, and we did have a good season. My teammates played with heart and scrap and that made up for their inexperience. West has always been known for hitters, but our strength this year was being a scrappy defensive team. At my height (6-foot-1), I’ve got a long fall to the ground, so digging doesn’t come naturally for me. I can remember doing drills my freshman year and I had no clue. It was crazy. But I’ve worked hard at that part of my game, and I improved a lot this year on my digs.”

Clarke signed with Tennessee’s softball program on Wednesday, fulfilling a dream she’s carried since she was 6 years old.

As a softball hitter she probably is the best Rowan County ever has seen, and she’s about to get in some more rebounding domination with West’s basketball team.

As far as volleyball, well, she’s just really tough in that sport. She plays at an All-State level.

“What you’ve got to remember is that she does volleyball three months a year,” Dowling said. “How good would she be if volleyball is what she focused on? I can’t answer that. All I can tell you is she’s awfully special in everything she does.”

South Piedmont Conference co-champion South lost two out of three to West, but the Raiders, who went 21-7, had the most good players and the most consistent team in the county. The Raiders were balanced and tough. South’s second-round playoff match with Lake Norman Charter came down the final point of the fifth set.

South will be very good again next season. The Raiders had a tremendous jayvee team.

Finally, a shoutout to Salisbury, which finished second in the Central Carolina Conference and won 10 league games for the first time in this century.

All-Rowan County

Player of the Year — Emma Clarke, West

Coach of the Year — Jan Dowling, West



Leah Rymer, Sr. — One of South’s two setters, she led the team in kills.

Avery Welch, Sr. — Led South in blocks and hitting percentage.

Laney Beaver, Jr. — The other setter. She led in assists.

Meredith Faw, Jr. — Led South in aces, second in digs.

Campbell Withers, Soph. — Led Raiders in digs.


Ava Morris, Jr. — Led Hornets in kills.

Ashley Yang, Jr, — Led Hornets in assists, second in digs.

Sheenya Daugherty, Sr. — Led Salisbury in digs and serve receives.

Dayami Acevedo, Soph. — Led Hornets in aces, top three in kills, digs.


Emma Clarke, Sr. — Led West in almost everything. All-Region.

Sophia Blackledge, Jr, — Top three for West in blocks, kills, digs.

Brinley Batts, Sr. — Second in digs for Falcons.


Kaylee Thonen, Jr. — Led Cougars in digs, aces, serve receives.

Rylee Hedrick, Fr. — Led Carson in assists.

Peyton Connolly, Sr. — Second on team in aces, digs, serve receives.


Cameron Ostle, Jr. — Led in East in kills, second in digs. All-Region.

Alli Corl, Soph. —  Second in kills and aces for Mustangs . All-Region.

Jacee Eudy, Soph. — Led East in assists, third in digs.


Krissstyle Stockton, Jr. — Best all-round player for the Cavaliers.