Emma Sinclair makes it a perfect 10 for Rockford’s smallest — and greatest — volleyball dynasty.
Sinclair committed this week to play volleyball for Dartmouth. The Keith School junior is the 10th NCAA Division I volleyball recruit out of a school with only 101 students since Jordan Haverly went to Nebraska (and later Indiana) in 2008.
“How could I not go to Dartmouth?” Sinclair said of picking an Ivy League school, which can’t give out athletic scholarships, over a few other Division I offers. “It’s an amazing opportunity academically.
“It’s a great opportunity to recognize Keith as well. Keith has been a volleyball hub for Rockford. We won three state championships. I want to continue the legacy, even though now we are a co-op. We are dying down, I guess.”
Keith has played as a co-op with Christian Life the last two years. “We’re the Predators,” Sinclair said. “They are the Eagles and we’re the Cougars, so we call ourselves the Predators.”
The first year, the bulk of the team was from Keith, led by Sinclair, Division I Loyola recruit Paige Kaufman and foreign exchange student Allie Sanchez, who also played on a Spanish national team. Last year, Sinclair said only four girls on the team came from Keith, a school that finished second in the state in Class 1A in 2007, won three straight titles from 2012-14 and won three straight regionals from 2015-17, two of them in 2A.
It’s a grand volleyball tradition. One Sinclair stumbled into.
Or maybe was nudged into by Keith athletic director Bob Nunez, whose daughters Alex (Loyola) and Zoe (currently starring for Notre Dame) played D-I.
“Mr. Nunez influenced me to start playing volleyball,” said Sinclair, a self-described “Keith lifer” who has attended the school since pre-kindergarten. “In second grade, I didn’t want to play. I was scared. I thought, ‘I’m going to be bad.’ But I tried out and I loved it. When all the girls at Keith started to play club. I joined in. That helped a lot.
“College recruiting for club volleyball is huge. I never got recruited for what I did in high school volleyball. I never expected to be added to that list (of Keith recruits) until I started getting serious in middle school.”
Sinclair, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, played her club volleyball in town, for VC United in Rockford.
“Blocking is one of my strong suits,” she said. “I can touch 10 feet, so I am a dominant hitter as well. VC emphasizes six rotation players, so I get to play all the way around and focus on my defense as well.”
She plans to study to become a pharmacist.
“It’s crazy. I never thought I’d end up here,” Sinclair said of being a Division I recruit. “I just played for fun. ‘Oh, yeah, we have a game tonight. Blah, blah, blah.’ I never took it seriously. But then we became a top team. It’s crazy how quickly things happened.”
Matt Trowbridge: firstname.lastname@example.org; @matttrowbridge