ONALASKA — Emma Gamoke wonders what kind of volleyball player she would be now had she stuck with the either of the club programs with which she participated while younger.
The Onalaska High School senior was caught off guard — to an extent, anyway — by what materialized during the fall months.
Gamoke had always been a good volleyball player, but this good?
Good enough to hammer down 36 kills and help the Hilltoppers end a long winning streak by powerful Aquinas? Good enough to become the perfect weapon for the Dabrowski sisters to utilize and help Onalaska play at the same level as the top teams in the MVC?
Basketball had taken a lot of Gamoke’s time away from volleyball because it’s always been her first love, but it didn’t stop her from having a memorable season that ends with her being named the La Crosse Tribune’s volleyball player of the year.
“This past season,” Gamoke said during a break from basketball practice on Thursday, “is the most fun I have ever had playing volleyball.”
She attributed that to her teammates, her coaches and the individual success that could open a path to playing in college. Gamoke already has basketball options — including walk-on opportunities at the Division I level — that she’s worked very hard to get, but what she accomplished the last few months may raise the eyebrows of volleyball coaches, too.
The 501 kills she had as a senior was a single-season record for the program. So were the 36 kills she had in the match against the Blugolds, and so were the 1,231 she ended up with in her four-year career.
It has led to some discussion of playing both sports at UW-La Crosse, but Gamoke isn’t rushing into a decision on her future. While she wants to have everything squared away by the time basketball season ends, Gamoke wants to be certain to end up at the school that fits her needs — academically and athletically — the best.
Like any team, Onalaska’s goal was to win a conference championship. The Hilltoppers placed second to Aquinas in 2016, and Gamoke and sisters Kate and Elisa Dabrowski would have to play big roles if they were to reel in the Blugolds and hold off Holmen in 2017.
Onalaska wound up third in the MVC with an 8-4 record after splitting with the Blugolds and losing twice in four sets to the Vikings.
All three played better as seniors and formed a group that could play well against good teams. Gamoke said no part of her big season could have worked without Kate at libero and Elisa at setter.
“The kills don’t happen without the defense or the pass at the net,” she said. “I’m not in position to do what I did without them or any of my other teammates.”
The trio may have been even more effective with more offseason work, but Gamoke spent most of her time playing basketball. That’s the way she spent her offseasons through her high school years. Volleyball time came in open gyms.
“Basketball was always my big thing, but we did spend more time as a (volleyball) team last summer than we did previous summers,” Gamoke said. “I didn’t do much more than that with the team because I was traveling all over playing basketball.
“But I kind of wish I would have done more (with volleyball) to see how much more success we could have had.”
Onalaska coach Megan Swiggum was the Tribune’s player of the year as a senior at North Crawford High School in 2002, and she said Gamoke’s confidence grew with each kill.
“She has had such potential since her freshman year, but this year she was a leader like no other, and the team chemistry that formed around her and everyone else’s belief in her helped, too,” Swiggum said. “The result of this confidence she gained was amazing and wonderful to watch game in and game out.”
The enjoyment of that will leave a mark on Gamoke, too. Anyone who has watched her play volleyball and basketball sees two different people on the floor.
Maybe it’s the excitement and constant celebration in volleyball that made her a much more outgoing person in that sport. Gamoke has always supported basketball teammates on the same level, but most of that emotion stays on the inside.
“I’m much more serious on the court when I play basketball,” she said. “I’m more of a perfectionist when I play basketball, and I can let more things go in volleyball.
“I feel like I have more pressure during basketball games, and maybe that’s the difference, but I love playing both, and now I’m looking forward to what we can do as a team in basketball.”