Nov. 28, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, NC - Fayetteville State senior volleyball captains Ifeyinwa Nwokolo and Joi Emanuel can relate to Head Coach Reeshemah Johnson when it comes to their four seasons with the program. All three had come ever so close to capturing a CIAA Championship but couldn't get over the hump to win one. That all changed this season when the Lady Broncos won their first CIAA Championship in five seasons and gave them the title that each longed for.
"It pretty much means everything," said Nwokolo, a native of Greensboro, NC. "Everything paid off. It's the best story to tell in that we went four years trying to do something and in your last year; you go out with a bang."
Nwokolo was a force this season for the Lady Broncos leading the team in kills and hitting percentage. She also led the CIAA and is tenth nationally in hitting percentage and ranks in the top three in kills and points. She says that the motivation for this year's championship came from not winning one in her first three seasons.
"I think that is what motivated us to do so well this year," she said. "It's really ironic that we played the same team (Chowan) for four years and then in our last year we beat them in the finals."
Nwokolo played her best volleyball when it meant the most this season, at the CIAA Championship. The middle blocker recorded double-digit kills in all five contests as Fayetteville State posted a perfect 5-0 record. She said that her mindset heading into the conference tournament changed with it being her last.
"Since it was my last tournament and pretty much the last CIAA game that I would ever play in competitively, you had to leave everything on the court," she says. "There was nowhere else to put it; you had to leave it all out on the court."
The championship run capped off a year for Nwokolo in which she has received numerous postseason accolades. She became the first Lady Bronco since Chekimbrell Jefferson in 2009 to be named the CIAA Player of the Year. Nwokolo also earned First Team All-Conference and All-Tournament Team recognitions. She most recently garnered Honorable Mention AVCA Atlantic All-Region Team honors. Nonetheless, Nwokolo says winning the conference championship meant the most.
"It meant a lot (winning CIAA Player of the Year)," she said. "My hard work didn't go unseen. What meant more, though, was winning the CIAA Championship."
Now, she gets to experience something else for the first time in her career; a trip to the NCAA Division II Women's Volleyball Championship.
"It's another experience," Nwokolo says. "It is pretty exciting because we have never done this before."
Emanuel finds similar significance to winning the CIAA Championship as Nwokolo does. As the other fourth-year senior on the team, the hard work that she and her teammates put in finally came to fruition.
"It means a whole lot. Four years of working so hard finally paid off," Emanuel, a Charlotte, NC native, said. "All of the long practices with us not wanting to quit and give up, it paid off."
Emanuel also saved her best volleyball for last as she recorded a team-high 16 kills in the CIAA Championship match against Chowan to earn Tournament MVP honors. The recognition went along with her being named to the All-Tournament Team and Second Team All-Conference. While enjoying the postseason awards, Emanuel says that her teammates deserve credit too because of how they performed in the tournament also.
"It means a lot to know that I was able to help my team and to be a leader on the court," she said. "It wasn't all just me. It was the other five players out on the court with me - we all did it as a team and stepped up. Yeah I got the MVP and it meant a lot, but my team also stepped up a lot too."
Emanuel ranks first on the team in blocks with 143 (55 solo, 88 assisted) and second in kills with 249. She also ranks first in the CIAA and 21st nationally in blocks per set and third in hitting percentage. The middle blocker says that her versatility on the court is the product of her four years in the program.
"It just comes with experience in knowing that I have to be the leader on the court; knowing that it starts with your older players and having the younger players look up to them," she stated. "If I am slacking off; of course they will too. It means a lot to me to instill in them that we need this and this is our time."
Joi Emanuel will look back on this season for many reasons, but the most memorable will be the long practices they had to endure and their undefeated run in the conference. The season has yet to finish; so more can be added to the stories that she will tell for years to come.