COLUMBIA — An hour before game time, music blares throughout the Hickman High School gym as the girls volleyball players warm up.
Many of the players are eagerly preparing for the freshmen match. Some of the freshmen who will be playing on the junior varsity team are a little more relaxed because their match is about two hours away.
And then there is Emma Drake, a freshman outside hitter. Emma helps head coach Greg Gunn set up the net then jokes around with senior setter Chloe Kome.
Emma is the lone freshman on Kewpies varsity team, which plays in another three hours. She is one of only a handful of freshmen to start on the varsity in Gunn’s 17-year tenure at Hickman.
“Emma is an incredibly talented player,” Gunn said. “She is really consistent, has great ball control and could end up being a leader on this team despite her age.”
The 5-foot-7 outside hitter moved to Columbia at age 5 and started playing volleyball when she was 10.
Drake is a familiar name among Hickman athletes. Her sister, Andrea Drake, graduated last year and played softball and basketball for Hickman.
“I have been playing basketball for a long time as well,” said Emma, who plans on trying out for Hickman’s basketball team once volleyball is over. “But volleyball is my own thing because no one else in my family has played it.”
Emma already knew some of her varsity teammates because they were friends with her sister.
“All of the girls welcomed me with open arms. I feel like I am their age,” she said. “Being friends with them previously definitely helped.”
Emma quickly assimilated to the program and has been doing well. She said the player she has bonded with the most is senior libero Ali Baxter.
“Emma is a great player. We didn’t haze her or anything like that,” Baxter said with a smile. “She is a good teammate as well. She picks you up and keeps you motivated.”
While her coach and teammates are quick to point out how talented she is, Emma didn’t expect to just walk into tryouts and be given a spot on the varsity team.
“Making the varsity team was my goal the whole time,” she said. “I thought I could do it, and that’s what I strived for. If I didn’t make it, I wasn’t going to be mad. I just want to play volleyball.”
Emma has plenty of experience. She plays on the under-14 Club COMO team along with Hickman junior varsity player, Hannah Hensel.
“Club COMO has definitely prepared me for a high level of competition, but there is a different atmosphere here because you are representing your school,” Emma said. “With club you are with your teammates so much that it is like you are family. It’s starting to feel that way with Hickman.”
Although Emma is used to competition, she said she still had some jitters before her first game of the season back in August.
“At first I was fine,” Emma said. “But once the game got closer, it started to get real. After the first five minutes though, all of my nervousness was gone.”
Hickman won only three games last season, but Baxter said she thinks Emma has the potential help the team immensely.
“Emma is very talented, and she is a strong all-around player,” Baxter said. “I am the libero so we are both on the back line. We even have our own handshake and everything.”