Toone back and better than ever

By Paige Fieldsted, Staff Writer

Ever since she was a freshman in high school, Emillie Toone knew she would play college volleyball. The number of college coaches that came to recruit her told her as much.

As a 6- foot-7-inch high school freshman, Toone, who hadn’t quite grown into her body, could be described at best as awkward.

“I was really uncoordinated,” Toone said, “It was scary to have college coaches watching me so young, but it just made me want to work even harder to get the coordination and get to that level.”

Utah head coach Beth Launiere was among the coaches that were interested in Toone from the beginning.

“She was awkward, but sometimes she would make plays that would surprise you,” Launiere said. “She did things that led me to believe she would be a great volleyball player. I knew I wanted her the first time I saw her play.”

Toone joined the Utah women’s volleyball team in 2004 and played in every match her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons.

As a junior, Toone averaged 1.93 blocks per game, making her the second best blocker in the nation. Combined with an average of 2.43 kills per game, Toone helped lead the Utes to be the best blocking team in the nation.

Toone gives all the credit for her national ranking to her teammates.

“The other blockers on my team make it so I can be so good,” she said. “I give credit to my wing blockers because they are the ones who set up the block.”

Toone was on top of the world and looking forward to a phenomenal senior season until last May when a knee injury sent her world crashing down around her. Suffering from a torn ACL and meniscus while playing with a local club team, Toone was forced to red shirt what would have been her senior season.

While most athletes would have experienced a time of devastation and depression, Toone was never caught sulking or complaining about her situation.

“I was devastated at first, but I just took it as everything happens for a reason,” Toone said. “I knew that I had a year and half to get better.”

Toone and the trainers worked hard everyday for that year and half to ensure that she would be ready to return to Crimson Court in 2008. Every day while her teammates were practicing, Toone could be seen on the sideline doing anything and everything to regain strength in her surgically-repaired knee.

“The trainers instilled in my head that I would be able to come back and play and I never doubted that,” Toone said. “I knew I could come back even stronger than I was before.”

In addition to working hard to recover, Toone never separated herself from the team. The ability to work along side her teammates made a huge difference in her recovery process.

“They made a conscious effort for us to see her improvement daily,” Launiere said. “We saw her go from only being able to lift her leg five times to running and jumping.”

Toone took her leadership role from on court to the sidelines, where she spent games cheering the team on and helping those players who were struggling.

“She was always firing the team up, talking to players about where to hit and what to block,” said teammate Lori Baird. “She always pushed us to be better.”

Although Toone never let any of her teammates see her get down, she admits that games were the hardest for her.

“I was always like, “Oh my goodness I want to go in’,” she said. “It was hard especially in close games, but I just took it as a reason to cheer even louder and help my team through this.”

Despite not being able to be a dominating presence on the court, Launiere said Toone was a huge part of the team and the success they had last season.

“She brought so much energy to the bench and was a great teammate throughout a really difficult year for her,” Launiere said. “She was 100 percent supportive and that shows how much this game matters to her.”

Even though Toone was a huge support for the team last year the players and coaches are glad to have her back on the court.

Launiere said her dominating presence and leadership on the court are going to be huge additions to the team this year.

“Its great to be playing with her again,” Baird said. “She is always pushing us to get better and it’s great to be able to practice hitting against a block like hers.”

Toone, however, is most excited to be back and looks forward to returning to the top in blocking.

“This team has the potential to be the top blocking team in the nation,” she said. “It’s all about the team, if we all put up big numbers we can get there.”

After the year off the court, Toone will return Friday as the Utes face Utah Valley University in their first match of the season.

“It is so amazing to be back,” Toone said, “I love this game and I can’t wait to play on Crimson Court again.”

The game is set to begin at 7 p.m. and is free with a U student ID.

[email protected]

Emillie Toone has worked relentlessly to recover from her knee injury and return to her team for the 2008 volleyball season.