Paige Roback takes aim for a return during a game for EMU. The 6-foot-tall sophomore played in all of the Eagles' first 19 matches this season.
EASTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY Enlarge
YPSILANTI, Mich. -- Blame the coach at Anthony Wayne who let a rambunctious fifth-grader go out and practice with the varsity.
Better yet, credit that coach for giving Paige Roback a very early start in a highly successful volleyball career.
Roback was in elementary school when she served as the manager for the Generals, and once she got that first taste of the sport just hitting the ball around with the older girls, she was committed for good.
She played her first competitive game as a seventh grader at Anthony Wayne and went on to be a four-year starter for volleyball powerhouse Notre Dame Academy.
Roback was a two-time City League player of the year, and set a school record at Notre Dame with 1,090 kills in her career.
"I think it was the competitiveness of the sport, and the emotions that are involved that really attracted me," said Roback, now a sophomore starter at Eastern Michigan. "Volleyball gives you a lot of the highs and lows, just like life does. I think the game of volleyball can teach you a lot about how to deal with those things."
At a recent juncture, Roback was second on the Eastern Michigan team with 170 kills and had played in all of the Eagles' first 19 matches.
She started all 35 matches for Eastern Michigan last season as a freshman, leading the team with 36 aces and finishing second in kills with 324.
She was the MVP of the Robert Morris Holiday Inn Volleyball Classic earlier this season, and was recently honored by the Mid-American Conference as its scholar athlete of the week.
Roback, an exercise science major, said the competition she faced while playing at Notre Dame prepared her well for volleyball at the Division I level in college.
"There were a lot of athletes that we played against in the City League and in tournaments that went on to play volleyball in college, so that made you perform at a certain level, just because the competition was so good," she said.
"Once I got here to Eastern Michigan, it was another step up because the speed of the game increased. You have to work very hard at it, because every team you face is loaded with athletes and great volleyball players."
Roback, whose Ohio Elite club team finished second in the nation when she was a junior at Notre Dame, said she considered a number of other colleges but decided that Eastern Michigan just had the "right feel" for her.
"I never felt like a stranger here, and I never got the sense they wanted me just as an athlete," she said.
"It always felt like I was being welcomed into a family."
Eastern Michigan coach Kim Berrington said she was impressed early on with Roback's leadership on the court and her steady demeanor.
"I go to the City League championships every year, so I started seeing her pretty young, when she was just a freshman and playing on a very good team. I was really surprised at how grounded she was," Berrington said.
"She had great success with her high school team and her club team, but she always kept things in perspective and kept her head about her."
Berrington said Roback usually draws the assignment of blocking the opposing team's best hitter, but never balks at any role she is asked to fulfill.
At a recent tournament in Utah, the six-foot Roback was matched up against a 6-6 hitter, but held her ground, Berrington said.
"She's not real flashy, but she's willing to do whatever the team needs her to do," the EMU coach said about Roback.
"You can't have a big ego and do some of these things we want her to do, but we seem to win as a team, and that's due in great part to players like Paige."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.