West High senior Emma NorrisBy Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – In a lineup filled with 6-foot hitters Emma Norris doesn’t stand out as an imposing figure.
At 5-foot-9 the West High senior doesn’t cast an intimidating shadow as an outside hitter.
Teammate Emily Halverson, one of the top blockers in the state at 6-foot-2, learned long ago not to underestimate Norris.
“When I first saw her I was surprised,” Halverson said. “Here is this girl who maybe is up to my chin that jumps out of the gym and she pounds it. It’s surprising, yes.”
Over the past three seasons opponents around the state have gotten a similar surprise from the high-rising Norris who uses her exceptional leaping ability to overcome her small stature.
The West High kill leader each of the past two seasons, Norris has proved underestimating her can come with consequences.
“I definitely don’t look intimidating with my size I’m smaller than a normal volleyball player so I love impressing people,” Norris said. “I like the oohs in warmups when I jump.”
Norris leads eighth-ranked West High (21-14) with 216 kills this season entering Tuesday’s Class 5A, Region 6 semifinal against Muscatine (6-25).
The Western Illinois recruit is closing in on 700 kills in her career after leading the Women of Troy with a career-high 294 kills last year.
“She just has that quick twitch,” West High coach Randy Dolson said. “She has an incredible vertical for her stature. She is explosive.”
Norris has always been able to jump high.
With a desire to play college volleyball and not much height by high-level volleyball standards, Norris saw her explosive leaping ability as the great equalizer against taller opponents.
Rather than relying on her leaping talent Norris worked to improve it.
She studied up on workouts to help with her vertical leap and hit the gym.
“When I was younger I had some sort of ups and I wanted to continue to keep jumping higher so I went to the gym and just constantly worked on my legs,” Norris said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be tall and I really wanted to play at the division 1 level so I had to do something.”
The work began to pay off in 2014 when Norris hammered 186 kills as a sophomore.
Last year she became one of the top hitters in the Mississippi Valley Conference when she hammered a team-high 294 kills.
This season she is the unquestioned go-to player for a West High team seeking its third consecutive state tournament appearance.
“She is our accountable one,” Halverson said. “We know we can get her the ball she is going to get a kill for us.”
Norris has done more than just work on her leaping ability.
Over the past three seasons she has worked on expanding her offensive arsenal.
“We’ve worked on some different off-speed shots, she is going to need that not just this year but in the future,” Dolson said. “We worked on some different shots and she has gotten a lot better with that.”
Norris reached her goal of play division I volleyball when she committed to Western Illinois.
She plans to continue to surprise at the next level.
“A lot of people told me that I was too short and I used that as my motivation because so many people were doubting me,” Norris said. “I wanted to prove to the younger girls that are also my size that if you put in the work you can get so many places. Height doesn’t determine your skill, hard work beats talent any day and I think I’ve proved that.”
Before Norris turns her attention to her college career she has some unfinished business at West.
Norris hasn’t won a state tournament match in prep career and wants to change that this season.
First Norris and West High must get past Muscatine and likely ninth-ranked Bettendorf to return to the state tournament.
“With pretty much our whole starting lineup being seniors this is our last year to go to state and that is our main goal,” Norris said. “As we are getting closer we are constantly pushing each other and working harder than we ever have before to reach that goal.”