Ask Emoni Bush to trace the origins of her unique given name, and the senior volleyball standout with Campbell River’s Carihi Tyees delivers her answer with an appropriate hint of joyous wonder.
“What I’ve heard is that it came to my dad in a dream,” says Bush.
Trace the journey she has made in the sport over the past four years and it seems most appropriate indeed.
From being called up to the Tyees’ senior varsity as a complete neophyte during her 2016-17 Grade 8 season, where she proceeded to make a most dramatic debut, to beginning her acclimation within the NCAA Div. 1 world next month, a full semester ahead of schedule with the Pac 12’s Washington Huskies, she has met success with such consistency that it’s hard to call it anything other than finding your calling.
Of course, when you examine that journey more closely, zooming in on all points in between, you see the rest of the story, that of a driven athlete who isn’t afraid to admit that polish is never achieved without a lot of elbow grease.
With that said, six head coaches of B.C. university women’s volleyball programs wound up making it unanimous, each selecting the 6-foot-3 outside hitter as the 2020-21 Varsity Letters’ B.C. Senior Girls Volleyball Player of the Year.
A DEBUT TO REMEMBER
Jacquie Chase remembers the day she volunteered to help a fellow coach navigate the chaos of guiding 30 girls through an introductory-level volleyball class at a local Campbell River middle school .
“I looked across the gym and just said ‘Oh my goodness, who is that?’” remembers Chase, recalling the first time she saw a Grade 8 Emoni Bush, in those days a 6-foot player whom she would later go on to coach with the Tyees’ senior varsity.
Like the rest of the girls in the gym, Chase noticed just how raw Bush was as a player. Yet the veteran coach’s seasoned eyes didn’t have to look too much deeper to see so much else.
“She was a big kid, but she moved so beautifully,” continued Chase. “I don’t know how else to describe it. When you coach, being able to recognize how someone controls their body is pretty cool.”
It was an impressive first impression to be sure, enough so that when the 2016-17 season began, Chase found a no-pressure opportunity to introduce Bush to the actual machinations of match play.
“We went to a play day in Powell River, and she had no idea what she was doing,” began Chase. “When we put her in, I told her ‘OK, when the ball is on the other side of the net, your job is to stay at the net, and if it comes over the net, just jump up and try to stop it.’”
What happened next was on one level comical.
“So she went up, she grabbed a hold of the ball and then she threw it back,” explained Chase in a tone both incredulous and touching.
“Then it was ‘tweet, tweet,’” Chase said of the officials whistles. “I said ‘OK Emoni, when you stop the ball, you can’t catch it and you can’t throw it.’ She said ‘OK.’”
On another level altogether, that moment was an absolute harbinger of the enormous capacity Bush would soon exhibit over a rapid maturation process in which she would so efficiently digest every strategy and nuanced skill associated with her new sport
“She told me to go out there, grab the ball and slam it down so that’s exactly what I did,” Bush recounts, sure enough of her self to laughingly expose the innocence she carried onto the court that day.
“But you know, I improved throughout the game,” continued Bush, who chatted with Varsity Letters following a workout Tuesday in Richmond with Volleyball Canada’s National Excellence Program. “That is my first memory of playing volleyball.”
The rest as they say, is history.
And while there’s more of it being made each day, the first few chapters have earned her the rightful praise of some of the country’s best coaches.
In keeping with the theme of her concentrated improvement, recently-appointed national senior women’s indoor head coach Shannon Winzer, who steps into her new role next month, has appreciated the bar Bush has set for herself in daily workouts.
“The thing that impresses me most about Emoni is her drive to get better every time she steps on court,” explains Winzer. “Her willingness to push herself out of her comfort zone at training and then spend additional time off court with coaches going over video and asking more questions is what really makes her a standout athlete. Emoni doesn’t just compete against others, she is competing against herself.”
Says UBC Okanagan women’s head coach Steve Manuel: “She is special, the kind of player that just doesn’t come around every day. I think we will be hearing her name long after her university career as a member of our national team.”
Adds Volleyball B.C technical director Jay Tremonti: “I won’t be surprised when we see Emoni as a driving force with our national team programs qualifying for future Olympics.”
And Chad Grimm, the head coach of the women’s team at Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers University pays a huge compliment when he says: “Not since Kiera Van Ryk have I seen a graduating high school girl from B.C. with these qualities. If she continues to work hard on her craft, she could have a successful international career.”
Van Ryk, of course, was Varsity Letters’ 2016-17 B.C. girls Player of the Year.
The Surrey Christian grad brought her game to UBC, helped the ‘Birds to a national title just two seasons later in 2018-19 and now plays professionally in Italy’s Serie A.
HARD WORK TURNS HER DREAMS INTO REALITY
Emoni Bush has already become well-versed in the history of the in-state rivalry south of the border between Washington and Washington State because her dad Michael is an alumnus of the UW’s arch-rivals, the Cougars.
“But we’re slowly going to convert him into a Husky,” Emoni laughs.
Mike Bush was, however, not just any Cougar. He was a two-time All-Pac 10 selection in both basketball and football.
“It was really awesome having him there,” Bush says of the help her dad was able to provide during her own recruiting process, one in which she also considered among other schools, Washington State and Arizona. “He knows all about the workings of Div. 1 athletics. It’s a whole different world in the U.S.”
And the athletic lineage doesn’t stop there.
Bush’s mother, Nadgelin Cliffe, helped the Steveston Packers past the rival New Westminster Hyacks to win the 1992-93 B.C. senior girls Triple A championship, then embarked on a collegiate career in the CCAA where she played for Vancouver’s Langara Falcons, earning All-Canadian status in 1999-2000.
Vollyeball has afforded Bush so many multi-level experiences, including playing for Team Canada at the FIVB Girls Under-18 World Championships in Egypt in the fall of her Grade 11 year.
“I saw her come back after her first summer with the national team and she was just super-focused,” remembers Chase, as Bush later earned first team all-star tourney honours in leading the Tyees to a second-place finish at the 2019 B.C. senior girls Triple-A championships at the Langley Events Centre. “I can’t wait to see where she will be six years from now. I think she will be a phenom.”
And Bush herself has always appreciated the way sport unites us all.
In her case, that meant getting a chance to play volleyball in the 2017 North American Indigenous Games in Toronto.
“It wasn’t all about the sport and being the best team,” said Bush, who belongs to Wei Wai Kum First Nation and over the summer was a recipient of the Premier’s Award for Indigenous Youth Excellence in Sport. “It was more about being able to compete for your community, and my entire nation from Campbell River was there backing me up. It was so awesome to see how many of them were so proud of me and our community.”
Volleyball will continue to help Emoni Bush write proud new chapters in her life, and when she finds herself in the midst of one of those special moments, the kind where you almost have to pinch yourself, she’ll quietly tell herself that everything starts with a dream.
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