It's probably not too hard for UAFS volleyball coach Jane Sargent to recall the countless players she coached during her 19 successful seasons as coach of the Lady Lions.
Through the years, there have been several All-Conference players, quite a few All-Americans, and, of course, plenty of role players who have helped Sargent fashion what will without a doubt one day be a Hall of Fame career.
And then there's Emily Tripp.
"Emily Tripp is any coach's dream player," Sargent said. "She's the consummate leader both on and off the floor. You can't out-work her, you can't out-smart her, and you can't out-play her. She is everywhere and most games laughing as she is chasing down balls that mere humans could never touch and all with a smile on her face."
Since she set foot on the UAFS campus four seasons ago, the 5-foot-5 senior libero from Bonner Springs, Kan., has become the physical embodiment of the defensive philosophy that has made the Lady Lions one of the elite teams in the country.
Tripp, who played setter, outside hitter and libero during her prep career at St. James Academy, staked her claim as one of the best defenders in the conference, region, and all of NCAA Division II early in her collegiate career.
She's been ranked in the Top 25 nationally in digs per set all four seasons and finished the season as high as No. 6 in 2014.
"I play middle back now, and that gives me more opportunity for digs. I've played right back, left back and middle back. … That, and I guess just playing for four years and kind of getting that experience under my belt," said Tripp of her stellar season.
"That's a testament to the defenders I've been able to play with every single year like Taylor Jordan, Mel (Goncalves), Olivia Navato, Macy Ayulo, Bailey Katzfey, Marika Stiles and Taylor Hamilton. All those defensive specialists have helped me become a better passer, and I've been able to grow and learn from them, especially with their guidance."
Tripp has been ranked in the Top 20 in total digs every season, too, and finished the season as high as No. 4 in 2014. She currently is No. 2 in the nation in total digs (770) – 18 digs behind national leader Jordyn Kuchenbrod of Bellarmine University.
It's that excitement, the chatter and the emotion of the game that energizes Tripp, who is anything but calm and collected on the court. For Tripp, being a senior leader also means being the emotional spark plug of the team.
"I take that role on the court of being loud and being excited for other people. Some players like to play calm and collected, and for me, if I'm all in, talking, getting excited, calling the shots, being able to talk girls through things, that's what helps me. And I know that's what helps our team," Tripp said. "If I talk a lot, I play well. If we keep talking as a team, that's when we play our best."
Sargent has never been one to hand out empty compliments, so it means a lot when she describes Tripp as "the best defensive volleyball player I have ever coached" and "the greatest person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting."
Over a four-year span, Tripp has been named All-Heartland Conference three times, Heartland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, All-Heartland Conference Tournament three times, All-South Central Region Tournament twice, First Team D2CCA All-South Central Region, AVCA All-South Central Region, and All-Elite Eight twice.
Tripp's biggest honor, perhaps, was being named Heartland Conference Player of the Year this season. She is the first-ever libero to earn the honor in the conference and likely the first-ever libero to earn Player of the Year honors on any level.
"It's a really big honor that I was even considered for it," said Tripp, who was Heartland Conference Libero of the Week six times this season. "There are so many great players out there for it.”