Credit: Courtesy | Cal Poly Athletics, 2022

On Aug. 26, redshirt freshman setter Emme Bullis saw the court for the first time in her college career playing the most important position in all of volleyball. 

The setter runs the offense, like a quarterback in football. Ideally, the setter is touching the ball every time the team has it, transitioning the ball from defense to offense by putting the ball in position for their attackers. 

So, she has to be completely in tune with their own team’s offense strategy and attacker’s tendencies, as well as being highly aware the other team’s defense tactics.

“She’s a leader,” head coach Caroline Walters said. “She is consistently saying the right things and doing the right things.”

In her first six games, she played three ranked teams in No. 12 UCLA, No. 13 Washington and No. 24 Pepperdine after earning the position over senior Avalon DeNecochea, who was second in assists in the Big West last season and First Team All-Big West the year before. 

Jumping into the position is not an easy task for any player, more so for Bullis, who had just stepped on the court for the first time and immediately faced three of the top 25 teams in the nation.

However, Bullis has made an immediate impact, earning Big West Setter of the Week four times. Her first came on the week of Sept. 12, when she averaged 8.47 assists and 2.94 digs per set against No. 24 Pepperdine and No. 13 Washington. 

She continued her success by posting double-doubles in six of her first seven career matches, earning the honors twice more for the weeks of Oct. 3 and Oct. 31. She totaled a career-high 15 digs during the week of Oct. 31 against Long Beach State.

Her latest Setter of the Week honor came the week of Nov. 12 after totaling 98 assists in two matches.

Bullis redshirted her first year of college, so she was with the team, practicing and growing as a player even though she did not play on the court. 

“I think [my redshirt] year has been the biggest growing point ever in my volleyball career,” Bullis said. “At first when you get offered a redshirt year, you are like ‘I don’t know if I want to do that.’”

Despite some hesitancy early, it is undeniable the importance of Bullis’s redshirt year on her success. A year with the team on the sidelines meant Bullis could learn the team’s system and build relationships with players without using a year of eligibility.

One of the most important players for Bullis during that redshirt year was DeNecochea, Cal Poly’s setter at the time. 

“I couldn’t be more grateful for her; she is always supporting me,” Bullis said.

Bullis notes that she and DeNecochea have different personalities and attitudes toward the game as Bullis speaks to her intensity while DeNecochea has a more laid-back approach. 

“I think that I’ve needed to learn more of that [relaxed approach],” Bullis said. “Sometimes, I realize I need to step back and let things play out, not only as a setter but as a leader on the team.”

Along with learning Cal Poly volleyball’s system, Bullis has been learning each of her hitter’s tendencies. The main two players who see the ball are redshirt sophomore outside hitter Tommi Stockham and senior and 2019 All-American opposite side hitter Maia Dvoracek

Bullis spends a large majority of the time learning about her attackers through watching film. 

“When we watch film, she’s the first one making comments about herself,” Walters said. “She is someone that just connects everyone and that’s really important for someone who is going to touch the ball every single time.”

Walters and Bullis sit and break down every decision the setter makes, speaking through who she decides to set, why she chooses them and how each decision is affected by the other team’s defense. 

“At the end of a match there are probably about 500 comments we make,” Bullis said about the team watching film.

In terms of game preparation, Walters and Bullis will also sit down and talk through who she’ll be setting in all possible situations that may arise during the match. 

“I’m continuing to learn because there are still times I am not perfect with what decision to make, but we can always strive for perfection and hope to achieve excellence,” Bullis said.

That drive and pursuit of perfection are what make Bullis a standout player. 

“I have never seen that competitiveness out of anybody before,” Stockham said.

Besides watching film, Bullis is able to learn about the players she’s setting through personal connections with the team off the court. 

“Being able to have that connection with Maia and Tommi, not just on the court, has been that much more amazing,” Bullis said.

While the team currently sits in fourth place and has an uphill battle for contention in the Big West, the future for Cal Poly volleyball is exciting. 

The team will lose Dvoracek next season, but Stockham, who leads the team with 337 kills, and Bullis will have two more years together, where their connection could grow even stronger.

Bullis also has redshirt sophomore middle blocker Kate Slack and redshirt freshman outside hitter Lizzy Markovska in the starting lineup with her. 

As of now, it is likely we see all three of those players receiving sets from Bullis for years to come.