It’s a question she hears often and her response is typically the same.
Kickapoo senior Emily Thater doesn’t play basketball because she is much, much better at volleyball.
"I heard that (question) just the other day," Thater said. "I tried it when I was younger, but (other players) just pushed me out of the way. I was never really good at it."
Thater understands the steady ‘why don’t you play basketball?’ comments. At 6-foot-3, the Lady Chiefs senior middle blocker brings an intimidating physical presence to the court.
“We don’t get many 6-foot-3 players through here every day, so I was excited about that,” said Lady Chiefs coach Debbie Downs, recalling the first time she saw Thater play. “When we walk into the gym and people see her, she grabs everyone’s attention.”
Thater comes from a sports-loving family. Her mother and father played high school basketball; brother and former Kickapoo runner Danny Thater is now on the cross country team at Tulsa University.
During most of her young childhood, Emily Thater could usually be found playing some sport whether it was volleyball, soccer, softball or basketball. When she got to middle school, Thater realized that volleyball was the sport for her.
"I love how quick you have to be to play it, and you have to have so much skill and finesse," Thater said. "The height is nice, but sometimes in basketball all you need is height, where in volleyball you have to be quick, strong and fast."
It took dedication and lots of time (i.e. improvement) to get to where she is now: a Division-I bound college player. Thater will join the Mizzou volleyball team next fall.
"I wasn't that good (when I first started), but I enjoyed playing volleyball," Thater said. “It's nice that it's all coming together. There were times when I thought it all wouldn't be worth it. But it is, and now I'm here. I'm so glad I did all that, it really paid off."
Thater took the advice of former area players Jade Hayes (Ozark) and Regan Peltier (Nixa) in deciding that MU was the way to go. She messaged them on Facebook and received positive feedback.
"I figured they probably know something," Thater said.
Kickapoo senior outside hitter Maris Below, who will play at Miami-Ohio next fall, has known Thater since they were both in elementary school. Their friendship has helped them form an on-the-court chemistry for a Kickapoo squad that’s trying to end a six-year district championship drought.
“(Emily’s) just so intense… When she gets a big hit or another teammate gets a big hit, she gets really excited and it pumps everyone up,” Below said.
Even though the two are going their separate ways, they’ll still communicate.
"I’m going to have to Skype her or something. It's going to be a lot different, but we'll still stay in touch," Below said. "Volleyball, it's a small word so we'll definitely still see each other around."
As for Thater, she’ll join one of the better college teams in the region. Not only will there be fewer questions about why she doesn’t play basketball, but she’ll also have a significant step up in competition.
“Everyone here is like, ‘You’re so tall!’ I'm really not. There are so many girls on that level that are taller.”
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