By Mike Deak
WINONA LAKE – When the game is taken away from you, you tend to miss it more. For Emily Peterson, she has a chance to get her hands back around the game once more.
After years away from the game of volleyball, Peterson is returning to the court with Grace College. The prep superstar at Tippecanoe Valley has battled some unfortunate bad luck with injuries during her prep career, but is looking to turn that around with a chance with Katie Van Hofwegen’s program.
Looking back at Peterson’s evolution as a prep star at Valley, from the jump she impacted the team as a freshman in 2015. It was that season where Peterson had to grow up quick, seriously injuring her shoulder during warmups before the rivalry volleyball game against Rochester. Able to come back from it her sophomore year, Peterson shifted from an all-around player to a full-time setter. As a freshman, she piled up 172 helpers while adding in 61 digs and 46 kills. Those numbers accelerated precipitously into year two, where she piled up 623 assists, 147 kills, 118 digs and 23 aces for good measure.
A healthy move from sophomore to junior year saw Peterson do more of the same, running up 721 assists plus 116 digs and 50 kills as her comfort for commanding the offense was growing.
But as Peterson was helping Valley’s volleyball program make strides in 2017, it was another injury shortly into 2018 that derailed her prep success. In the girls basketball sectional tournament at Fairfield, Valley was thwarting Lakeland in the opening round and Peterson was commanding the floor. On a fast break opportunity, Peterson’s knee gave out and a lopsided win turned into what felt like a funeral in the gymnasium as Peterson’s season, and ultimately high school career, was over.
A torn ACL ended her junior basketball season, and subsequent senior volleyball season. With that, Peterson transferred to Warsaw to complete her senior year, but athletics weren’t in the immediate future. Peterson would head to the College of Charleston to work on a major in marine biology.
“Being away from the game I was able to reflect and it allowed me to realize how much I missed competing,” Peterson said. “I had trained so hard during the times from when I was the age of 12 until my junior year and didn’t ever look back. I do not regret the time I spent playing those sports but I think after my second injury, I just wanted to be done. I felt at the time it was best for my physical and emotional well-being.”
At Charleston, Peterson didn’t compete as a scholarship athlete, but played club volleyball and basketball. There was a fire still burning to continue in athletics, and Peterson was looking to fuel that fire.
A connection with Van Hofwegen was the spark.
“As I look back on my journey it amazes me the way God has worked through it all,” Peterson said. “I think he knew that taking that short break from being an athlete was what I needed. I have a completely different outlook on what it means to compete and be an athlete. I definitely never take the opportunities I am given for granted. Coach Katie has been a blessing and one of my greatest supporters coming out from my break. It took a bit to get back into the swing of things and we both knew it would be a process but she was very trusting and supportive. I was able to work on knocking the rust off and had continuous reps everyday in the gym.
Peterson admitted that her love for marine biology work has not dissipated, and would like to return to that field in the future. But the tides of the Atlantic Ocean will remain. The opportunity to set up teammates in Winona Lake won’t last forever.
“I can say that coming here has been one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself,” offered Peterson. “Never in a million years would I have thought I would have the opportunity to come to Grace and to play volleyball. This past fall when I told myself I wanted to compete again, I reached out to coach Katie knowing that I had nothing to lose and if worse comes to worse I would just go back to Charleston after COVID had settle down and continuing to just be a student. I was very fortunate for the chance to prove to coach that I wanted to be a part of the team and compete.”