If you want to know how committed Emily Laskelle is to volleyball, just ask Manny Johnson.
If you want to know how hard Laskelle, a Napa High School senior, has worked on her game over the last four years, just ask Johnson.
If you want to know how much improvement Laskelle, a 6-foot-2 right-side hitter, has made over the past few years, just ask Johnson.
If you want to know what Laskelle does well as a volleyball player, just ask Johnson.
“She worked really hard to get better at playing volleyball, playing back row as well as front row,” said Johnson, who was Laskelle’s club coach with TCA and her junior varsity coach at Napa High. “Since I met her, she’s always had a goal to try to play in college. To see her reach that goal is pretty impressive, because she had a lot of work to do. It’s a good reward for a lot of hard work that she put in during her four years of high school.”
Laskelle, a first-team All-Monticello Empire League and All-Napa County player, signed a national letter-of-intent Friday with Jacksonville University in Florida and will play for the NCAA-Division I Dolphins on a full-ride scholarship this fall. Jacksonville plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Laskelle, 18, turned down offers from New Mexico State, American University (Washington, D.C.) and Central Connecticut State to attend Jacksonville.
“I feel very, very grateful and blessed to be able to get to where I am today in my skills,” Laskelle said. “I’ve always, in the back of my mind, wanted to go to Jacksonville because I got that feeling when I stepped on campus — ‘I want to go here, this is a school for me’ feeling.
“I knew for a while that I was moving away somewhere, I just didn’t know where. Now I’m ready to say, ‘I’m moving to Florida. I’ll start my life there.’”
Johnson and Bear Grassl have had a lot to do with Laskelle’s growth, development and success in volleyball. Laskelle is on Grassl’s Empire Volleyball Club Mizuno 18-1 team, which plays in the Northern California Volleyball Association power league. It was Johnson who worked with Laskelle on the 15’s and 16’s TCA age group teams, providing instruction in all aspects of the game.
“She was in the gym a lot. She would take what you were teaching her and immediately try to make it happen,” said Johnson, a Benicia resident, who teaches at Vallejo High and coaches the Xceleration 16’s Blue team, a member of USA Volleyball. “She had the work ethic from day one. She’s always had the mindset to be a competitor and to be better.
“The one thing that I liked is that every year she improved. She responded to every challenge put in front of her, which was the best part. I’m excited to see her take on and embark on the next step in her life journey.”
Laskelle started this past year for Napa’s 31-9 volleyball team, which won its third MEL title in five years. The Indians were 14-1 in the league, losing their only match to Vacaville, 3-2.
The 12th-seeded Indians got as far as the second round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs, losing to No. 5 Granite Bay in November, 3-0.
Laskelle, a left-handed hitter and a two-year starter, shared the Indians’ team MVP honors with Jordan Crossley and Clara Buffham.
Laskelle was named first-team All-Napa County. She was chosen to the All-St. Francis Elite 8 Tournament team and to the Davis All-Tournament team. For the year, she had 95 kills, a .289 hitting percentage, 20 blocks, 14 assists and seven service aces.
“Emily was our hardest hitter on the team,” said Napa’s David Rentz, the Napa County Coach of the Year. “In fact, if I look back on my 20 years of high school coaching, she has to rank in the top three hardest hitters. She had a great senior year.
“Emily was fun to have around practice, was hard-working, and an inspiration to a lot of our upcoming freshmen and junior varsity players. We knew she could get off the ground for her kills and swing-blocking from her (right) side position and she worked hard to develop her hands where she could turn around and set from that position. As the season progressed her top spin, jump serve also developed into an offensive weapon as she learned to change speeds.
“We all wish her well and it will be fun following her collegiate career at Jacksonville.”
Laskelle is a year-round player. She plays club volleyball, which goes from January through June. She has played on Napa High teams, which start the season in August and play for four months.
“Emily is extremely physical with great arm speed and is a real presence at the net,” Grassl said. “She’s been an important cog over the last couple of years (for Empire) in making our team a success. She is a very dynamic attacker.”
Laskelle’s goal since making the Napa High team was to work hard, both academically and at volleyball, with dreams of earning a scholarship and playing in college. She plays with Empire three days a week at Sonoma State in Rohnert Park.
“I’m a little scared, but I’m ready for the challenges that have been brought on because I’ve gotten this far and I feel like I can make it through a lot because of how hard I’ve worked and how I haven’t given up,” said Laskelle, an honor roll student all four years who has a 3.90 GPA. “I’m really looking forward to it. I absolutely love the school. As soon as I got there I just fell in love with it. I love the town. It’s everything I’d want in a school.
“I feel like every game and every tournament, I get better.”