“I was really excited for this year,” said Maria Yoder (Manheim, Pa./Hempfield), a senior on EMU’s volleyball team.
“I guess I have a little bias,” she added. “I came in Carrie’s first year of coaching when I was a freshman and I’m the only four-year person on this team, so I felt very connected to our success or failure as a team. Yeah, I was just really excited.”
Maria was a four-year starter, finishing No. 8 in EMU’s history of career sets played.
Head Coach Carrie Bert is impressed with the leadership Maria provided for the team.
“Maria, earning the respect of her teammates, served as a captain the last two seasons,” Coach Bert said.
Last year Maria was a co-captain with Jasmine Johnson and Janna Williams, and Maria felt their absence this fall.
“I think I felt more responsibility this year, both on the court and off,” Maria said. “I think the amount of things I was doing as a captain went up slightly but my sense of responsibility went up a lot."
Maria has been very involved in activities beyond volleyball, as well--think global. She spent half of this summer in Peru, using an EMU grant to conduct an exploration of health care on many different levels. She also did a semester-long cross cultural to Guatemala in the spring of her sophomore year, and returned last spring to conduct research on the health care system there.
“At the time I really thought I was going to go into global health care practice,” Maria said, “and we were really wrestling with the systemic racism in Guatemala against the Mayan people, so we came across this organization that services almost entirely indigenous Mayans in areas that are really underserved by the governmental health care system.”
Now Maria hopes to go into the field of clinical psychology.
“Which sounds a little funny with the biology major,” she admitted, “but I’m a psychology minor as well and I’ve kind of recently realized that that’s more the route that I want to go. I still love having the background in biology...I think that’s a really strong building block to go off of into clinical psychology.”
Coach Bert recognizes and appreciates the diversity of Maria’s involvement in EMU life.
“She was a four-year starter who modeled campus-wide engagement,” said Coach Bert, “serving on student government, performing as first chair cello, and excelling in the classroom. She is thoughtful, insightful, willing to question, and perceptive of situations and feelings around her. Her sense of humor is both ornery and enjoyable.”
Maria started playing volleyball in middle school.
“I first got into it because I was tall,” she said, laughing. “And I have a ton of older siblings and this is a sport that none of them had done, so it was cool I could do my own thing.”
She had encouraging coaches who kept her involved in the sport through high school, despite some unhealthy team dynamics.
“I actually decided I was done with volleyball after that. I actually looked into cross country. I loved track, so I was going to do cross country and track in college.”
Maria was at the point of committing to the cross country team when, in the summer before her freshman year of college, Coach Bert reached out to her.
“She emailed me at a time that I was just really doubting if I wanted to run cross country and I was like you know what, yep, let’s go back to volleyball. I’d had kind of unpleasant experiences with the team dynamic in the past but I still loved the sport enough that I came back.”
She’s glad she did.
“Every year at EMU I have loved it, like the team dynamics are entirely different, so much more healthy. Carrie’s a very open and honest coach and I appreciate that incredibly. Yeah, I’ve just had a ton of fun here.”
After four years of college athletics, Maria has some advice to share with first-year players.
“Make sure you’re here for both the sport and the school because identifying yourself only as an athlete is pretty dangerous,” she said. “It’s not always going to go well. You’re definitely going to go through ruts. I think you should expect to go through ruts, and that often leads to times of growth, too.”
Coach Bert will miss Maria, the first athlete she coached for all four years.
“She has impacted our program in many ways,” Coach Bert said, “and her consistency and steadiness in the middle will leave us with big shoes to fill.”
--- by Elizabeth Nisly, EMU Sports Information Writing Intern