BILLINGS -- Ayla Embry is that player who hits the deck at all costs.
In a mid-season win over MSU Billings, the sophomore tore open an old cut on her elbow, had it wrapped and subbed right back in. It's Embry's job to keep volleyball plays alive for Rocky Mountain College when it looks like they're dead.
"I make my plays based off my other teammates, based off the hitters in the front row and how they block," Embry told MTN Sports. "I basically just try to read the other team, where they're going to hit and all that stuff."
In short, the Battlin' Bears' libero has to be a great guesser and teammates don't take her value for granted.
"It's so fun playing with here, she's always in my corner," said Rocky hitter Kyra Oakland. "I'm always cheering her on. She's always communicating with me on the outside so it's been really helpful, especially because she played a lot last year and this is my first year, really, on varsity. So, she's been really helpful."
Tuesday Embry was named the NAIA women's volleyball defender of the week after totaling 76 digs and recording a serve-receive percentage of 1.0 in a season-finale sweep over Montana State-Northern. Rocky (16-3) will host Montana Tech (9-10) Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Frontier Conference tournament semifinals.
This time two years ago Embry was a senior at Bozeman High School deciding whether volleyball would actually be her ticket to college.
"I was debating whether to play basketball or volleyball in college," she said. "I kept my options open, so it was pretty cool."
She didn't start playing volleyball until eighth grade and doesn't really recall at the time whether she was a little clumsy or athletic.
"I don't know, it was kind of a mix," she said. "I always played defense because I was one of the shorter girls on the court. Always have been, always will be. So, it kind of just came into how I'm playing now."
The progression from eighth-grade newbie to superior college sophomore has been terrific. Oakland can attest.
"She's been such a great presence on the court, such a great leader -- such a great leader in the back row," she said.