Leaving A Legacy
By Meg Ayers
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Finishing up an admirable four year-career with the Holy Cross volleyball program, senior Emily Popp leaves not only a legacy in the books but a legacy beyond the numbers in the heart of the program. In her four years as a Crusader, Popp has set several records for her outstanding performance on the court. Playing both libero and defensive specialist throughout her career she has proven to dig anything that is thrown or hit at her. Popp, the 5-4 defensive rock, broke the individual career digs record reaching 1,381 digs.
SUPPORT ALONG THE WAY
Popp set the record at Army West Point on October 18th of this year. What made it so special was her family surprising her, coming all the way from Michigan to see the match. “My dad and aunt surprised me at the match and were so excited for me,” said Popp. With the addition of her mother and super fan grandmothers, Popp has had an awesome support system and fan base cheering her along the way. “It’s been a lot of fun to feel so supported and loved in my career.” In addition to her support system from home, Popp has found a family of her own here at Holy Cross. “This team is the best group of girls I’ve ever met,” said Popp. “Being a part of a team that values each other so much is something that is so rare and makes me appreciate it all so much.”
Popp, humble to the core, emphasized how the record, while individual on the stats sheet, is really something the whole team has earned. “In reality it isn’t an individual record, I broke the record because my teammates have kept the ball alive long enough and have set great blocks for me—it’s really a team accomplishment.”
This speaks to the legacy that Popp leaves on the program here at Holy Cross; a legacy beyond the numbers in the heart that Popp brings to every aspect of the game. “As a player she is now the best defender that Holy Cross has ever seen,” noted Popp’s teammate and sole fellow senior Mandy Sifferlen. “She the most athletically talented and one of the most emotionally passionate people,” said Sifferlen. “She thrives on something you can’t coach, which is heart.”
Recalling the ups and downs of a long and prosperous career, Popp fondly noted that the positive direction in which the program is headed and the love of the game are what really made playing worth it. “It’s really exciting to see where this program is going to go,” said Popp. "While being in the midst of a lot of changes is always difficult I’m so happy to have played when I did because now I can see where this program is going and know that I had a part in that.”
As with most Division I programs, there are ups and downs; change is inevitable. From experiencing program changes to changing positions, Popp has seen it all. Her ability to be a catalyst for positive change, however, is something that sets her apart. Together with Sifferlen by her side, Popp has set the standard for a positive attitude and a hard working culture that will live on for years to come. “Our friendship and our values of respect, family, and hard work are what we have both held onto throughout our careers as Holy Cross volleyball student-athletes,” added Sifferlen.
Succeeding on the court for the Crusaders is something Popp is familiar with. She saw success early on setting two individual single season records (digs per set, and digs in a season) her sophomore year playing libero. Her junior year, Popp was transitioned to a defensive specialist, coming off the bench to contribute on the team’s defense. Popp was far from discouraged having the new position. “It’s not usually a position with a lot of glamour and attention,” Popp explained. “But it’s really important because it’s one of the positions that other teams try to exploit and target as a weaker link.” Popp, a fighter and competitor by nature, accepted willingly, “I like the challenge of that.”
LOVE OF THE SPORT
Popp attributes her passion for volleyball and love of the sport to being one of her keys to success. “I always remember that this sport is what I love to do,” said Popp.
The heart that teammate Sifferlen pointed out is something that Popp embodies in her play. “Loving the game is the most important part of playing,” said Popp. “If you genuinely love playing and love putting in the work it takes to get better, then when the four years come to an end you have something to be proud of.”
DEVELOPING HER PASSION
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Popp discovered her passion for volleyball. Popp fondly remembers how her mother, a college volleyball player herself, taught her to bump and dig everything in sight from the minute she could walk. “As soon as I could walk she had me bumping balloons,” Popp explained. Then came the kid-sized volleyballs once Popp passed the balloon level. “Wherever we were I’d pepper with my mom. I’ve been playing the game forever,” recalled Popp.
Holy Cross is somewhere Popp would have never come to had it not been for her love of the game. “I always knew I wanted to have my own adventure, I just didn’t know I would come this far.”
Popp, a Clarkston, Michigan native, followed volleyball halfway across the country ending up here in Worcester. “It was exactly what I pictured a college could be,” said Popp. “I love the campus, the values, and the sense of community I felt.”
Four years later, Popp has not only become a part of that community, but she has added unmeasurable value to the Holy Cross volleyball program. “We have worked tirelessly to instill a culture we are proud to leave behind,” Sifferlen emphasized. “Emily is a never-ending stream of positive, motivational energy that can inspire anyone to step up and work to achieve their very best. She truly is a team player and someone who will forever put others above herself and only give, never expecting anything in return.”
There are numerous ways to stay connected with the Holy Cross volleyball team. Follow the Crusaders on Twitter @HCrossVB, on Facebook and on Instagram. You can also get the latest news and results on the team sent directly to your e-mail. To sign up for e-mail alerts go here.