Of all the assets Potomac Falls senior Emily Mims brings to the volleyball court -- a powerful swing, savvy playmaking ability and defensive prowess -- what stands out the most has nothing to do with what happens when the ball is in play. It's actually between points when Mims, one of the premier players in the Washington area, shines brightest.
"Nobody has ever, ever been more encouraging or more supportive of her teammates than Emily is everyday," Panthers Coach Linda Lachey-Helms said. "And she's been that way since Day One. She's the one when we start the season that picks up the one girl who can't do anything right and works with her. She's the one who, after every play, is encouraging her teammates on the floor. She's a class act.
"Really, it's just icing on the cake that she's such a great volleyball player, too."
Wednesday night at Stone Bridge, Mims's physical skills and positive emotional energy were on equal display in a come-from-behind, 26-28, 25-23, 25-22, 25-22 win over the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (8-2, 31 in Dulles District). She recorded a team-high 18 kills, 14 defensive saves and 3 blocks, sealing the victory on match point with a hard shot from the left side that went through the hands of two blockers.
But Mims also never let a single play go by without jogging over to at least one player on her team and offering encouraging words, high-fives or even a little energy swapping as she rubbed her fingertips onto her teammates' palms.
"It definitely helps our whole team that Emily is so encouraging," said senior outside hitter Lindsey Facemire, who added six kills against the Bulldogs and helped Potomac Falls improve to 6-3, 2-2. "Whenever you make a bad play, it's so hard not to get down on yourself, especially in such a big match. But then she's right there as soon as you turn around to say, 'You'll get the next one!' She never lets us get down."
Physically, too, Mims is playing better than ever. She was AA Dulles District player of the year as a sophomore but was hampered throughout last season by a severely sprained left ankle. Though Mims played in 13 games -- totaling 118 kills, 330 defensive saves, 27 blocks and 33 aces -- she never fully regained her vertical leap or that powerful swing and ability to hit down the line that is one of her trademarks.
This season, however, she has showed no signs of being anything less than 100 percent. Mims did give a scare to her team and parents -- even her opponents -- on Wednesday when she collapsed to the court late in the fourth game and appeared to be reaching for her right ankle. Instead, she was treated merely for a cramp in her calf.
"I guess I scared everyone, but I'm fine," said Mims, who was approached by several of the Bulldogs players after the match and told they were relieved she was not hurt. "Actually, I feel great. It was really frustrating last year because it took me the whole season to get back into it. But now, to finally really be healthy . . . it feels amazing."
And it shows in her play.
"She just looked great, didn't she?" Lachey-Helms said after the victory. "But it's more than just her athleticism. She sees the court better, I think, than anyone in the district.
"What takes you to the next level in volleyball is when you don't have to constantly watch the ball the whole time and can, instead, see your opponents and teammates. Emily has gotten to that level in her play, and it has made her just phenomenal to watch."