To reach her full potential as a volleyball player, Emma Villaluz knows that she has to be ready for any scenario, stay positive with her teammates, learn from her mistakes, try to control only what she can control and, most importantly, have confidence in her abilities. She believes that she’s good enough to compete with virtually anybody, no matter how talented they may be.
“I know that when I step onto the court,” she said, “I deserve to be there.”
That belief will be tested this fall when the recent Camas High School (CHS) graduate joins Oregon State University’s volleyball team as a walk-on.
“I had already applied to OSU, so it was a place I was interested in already,” she said. “I’ve been to the campus, and I had a feeling that it would be a good fit for me. I played club (volleyball) with a couple of girls on the team, and they reached out to me and talked about their experiences, and that was a green flag moving forward. And of course playing in the Pac-12 Conference is a big draw. (OSU) can’t guarantee me any (scholarship) money — not yet, at least — but I’m honestly excited to be a part of the team.”
Villaluz had received interest from smaller schools in Indiana in California, but was waiting to play in front of recruiters at a club tournament in Denver in mid-March before finalizing her decision. She was “freaked out” after the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which forced some programs to shut down their recruiting efforts, but kept in contact with OSU coaches, who called in late April to offer her a spot on their squad.
“Emma always wants to improve with the best, so going to a small school was not an option, even though playing time was virtually a guarantee,” said Chris Osborn, a coach for the Beaverton, Oregon-based Athena Volleyball Club, which Vlllaluz joined two years ago. “She wants to work for every point and (test) her skill amongst the best players she can get around. It’s never been enough for her to be a ‘big fish in a little pond.’ She wants to be the ‘whale in the ocean,’ and is willing to work for it.”
Villaluz established herself as one of the best prep volleyball players in Washington during her senior season, earning her second consecutive 4A Greater St. Helens League player of the year honor while leading the Papermakers to the 4A state tournament.
“I have watched Emma play volleyball since she was in middle school, and I just knew this girl was different,” Papermakers coach Michelle Ford said. “She’s so humble, and one of the hardest working student-athletes I have ever encountered. She would never say she was good, but (everybody in) the state of Washington knows that Emma is good. For her height and spunk, she is unstoppable.”
Villaluz started playing volleyball when she was 10, joined the Vancouver-based Excel Northwest Volleyball Club the following year and moved to Athena when she was 16.
“Being on the court with my teammates is a big thing for me,” she said. “I’m usually pretty close with my teammates, and friends with them off the court. I also love the rush I get from long rallies — the sweat, the hard work, finishing with a point, it’s the greatest feeling. It’s really exciting.”
The 5-foot-5 Villaluz will be a libero/defensive specialist for OSU, but played almost every other position during her time as a Papermaker.
“My mental (approach) has changed so much,” she said. “I used to be focused on myself, what position I was playing and what I had to do, but as I began to play different positions, I started to look at my teammates differently and better understand their responsibilities. Playing different positions made me appreciate all of the different work that everybody does, and made me a better player.”
Villaluz plans to study bio-health science at OSU.
“Emma was an amazing student,” said CHS science teacher Charlotte Waters. “She paid attention in class, and was very good about asking clarifying questions and getting help when she didn’t understand a particular problem. Honestly, the best part (about her) is that she is unbelievably kind. I don’t think she ever let her bad days show. She smiled and seemed genuinely happy to be at school. I was always impressed that a kid could be that good at a sport, and so intelligent and kind, and still remain humble. I was so excited to hear that she is going to OSU. I think she will be great.”
Villaluz has been interested in science for as long as she can remember, no doubt partially influenced by her parents, who are dentists.
“Science just comes (easy) to me. I understand it very well,” she said. “For my senior project, I shadowed a surgeon, and that was good for me; I wasn’t really grossed out by the blood while watching surgeries or anything like that. My big thing is I want to work with people and care for others. I’ve thought about going pre-med, which I know requires a lot of school, but I’m ready for it.”
Even though Villaluz’s life still revolves around volleyball, she’s embraced the opportunity to revisit one of her old hobbies after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools in mid-March,
“Lately I’ve been baking a lot,” she said. “I make some pretty good chocolate chip cookies, if I do say so myself. When I was young, I used to bake with my grandmother all of the time. Whenever I went over to her house, we’d bake a cake and she’d show me tips and tricks. I had to give it up as I got more and more into volleyball, but now I’m starting to get back into it. My mom is actually getting upset with me because I’m baking so much, and she thinks it’s time I take a break.”