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Athletic sophomore keys Spartans in crucial assist role

November 24, 2009

Sophomore setter Natalie Emro reaches for the ball during the Nov. 14 game against Purdue at Jenison Field House. The Spartans defeated the Boilermakers 3-0.

Photo by Angeli Wright | The State News

It all started when her coach noticed she was tall and left-handed.

At that time, Natalie Emro, who was playing on a 12-and-under club volleyball squad, was asked to be a setter for her team. And she’s maintained that role in her current position as setter for the MSU volleyball team.

“I was kind of forced into it,” Emro said. “I really like that you can control the offense and control the pace of the game. You have a leadership role where you can run the offenses.”

Emro, a sophomore setter for the Spartans, has been the model of consistency throughout her career at MSU. Last season, she started every single set and has been a key to nearly everything the team does on offense.

Her main function is to deliver accurate passes to her team’s attackers to better their chances of getting a kill. Emro leads the team with 1,199 assists this season, or 10.6 assists per set, which places her fourth in the conference in that category.

Whether it’s during the offseason, in practice or during the crucial moments of a game, Emro’s teammates are confident in her ability to lead.

“She’s very consistent,” sophomore defensive specialist Carli Weiler said. “Natalie spends a lot of time in the gym and she’s a very hard worker, so the fact that she played all year last year for us makes her more comfortable for the hitters, and the chemistry is really good right now.”

Emro is one of several sophomores who saw significant playing time last season as freshmen, so the Spartans hope the group’s chemistry will continue to pay dividends in the coming seasons.

Growing up in the Chicago area, Emro moved to Wildwood, Mo., midway through high school and chose MSU in part because she had grown up in Big Ten country.

Emro was an AAU basketball player in high school and played all four years of high school varsity basketball. She stands 6 feet 1 inches tall and usually is one of the tallest players on the court.

This season she has been able to connect with her teammates and appears to have grown from all the game experience she gained last season.

Earlier this season, Emro was named tournament MVP of the UIC Invitational, where she posted 104 assists in three games, and 50 in a single game against UIC.

“Natalie is learning more and more about the game all the time,” head coach Cathy George said. “She came in and was setting for us, and it was kind of baptism by fire and she was thrown into every situation, but she has done a nice job in continuing her growth and progress throughout the course of the year and a half so far.”

Emro is part of a sophomore class that logged significant playing time last season due to a shortage of upperclassmen. She has the potential to post big numbers in her career at MSU if she continues to receive the majority of minutes and plays to the strength of her teammates.

Emro will try to help her team collect victories this weekend at No. 1 Penn State on Friday and at Ohio State on Saturday to look to improve upon its 5-13 conference record and 17-13 overall mark.

Although she’s known for setting up her teammates, opposing defenses should take note of Emro’s ability to kill the ball as well. She ranks seventh on the team in kills and has caught some defenders off guard with timely plays this season.

“The defense really talks to me a lot about when I have a block up front and when I don’t, so they yell take it or go,” Emro said.

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