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Baranek: Chicago Christian volleyball in good hands with Emily Workman

Emily Workman Chicago Christian. | Vincent D. Johnson~For Sun-Times Media

Emily Workman, of Chicago Christian. | Vincent D. Johnson~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 4, 2013 6:21AM



Emily Workman certainly lives up to her last name as a volleyball player at Chicago Christian.

The senior, who lives in Tinley Park, is a premier setter. With her 5-foot-9 frame, she can get up at the net and hit and block with the best opponent. She’ll give you all she’s got in the back row as a defender.

Last season, Workman earned All-Area honors with 948 assists, 205 digs, 103 kills, 60 blocks and 50 aces.

In 2013, she’s aiming to help the Knights bookend her four years as a varsity player with another state championship, and along the way prepare a junior and four other freshmen setters to continue the Knights’ winning tradition.

For Workman, life is good, even when both of her knees occasionally hurt.

Now, it’s for the best of reasons.

“It’s because I’m playing so much,” she said with a smile. “It doesn’t have anything to do with arthritis.”

Workman didn’t even understand what the word meant when it did. Imagine one of your earliest life memories being a 2-year-old with juvenile arthritis in your left knee.

“I got it when we were in Kentucky on vacation,” Workman said. “It started to flare up and get huge. I can remember my brother carrying me around everywhere, because I couldn’t walk on it.”

It was a condition that occasionally would hinder her during her early years. It also helped steer her on a path that will take her to Indiana Wesleyan on a volleyball scholarship.

The turning point, she said, came in seventh grade at Southwest Chicago Christian grammar school. After several years as a club gymnast, another flare-up resulted in her having to take a break. When it subsided, Workman developed an interest in volleyball.

“I wanted to stay in sports,” she said. “I didn’t want to sit at home doing nothing. I found I loved volleyball, especially the team aspect of it.

“For a short while I was trying to do both, but it was too much. The transition was good, though, because I was able to find something else I really wanted to do.”

Workman quickly evolved into a setter. When she enrolled at Chicago Christian, she found a mentor-in-waiting in senior Madison Kamp, who played for the 2010 USA team at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

“Maddie always helped me with my setting,” Workman said. “Whenever I was setting she’d be right next to me, helping me by fixing my hands or fixing my footwork.”

Workman mostly played defense as a freshman on the varsity in 2010. She was on the floor when the Knights beat Breese Central in the Class 2A title match.

In 2011, Workman helped Chicago Christian back to state, compiling 1,025 assists as the Knights finished second. Last season Chicago Christian moved up to Class 3A, winning 24 matches before losing to Wheaton St. Francis in a supersectional.

“Working with her four years in high school and three years of club has really been something special for me,” Knights coach James Garcia said. “I’ve gotten a lot of compliments about her from other high school and club coaches, just talking about her abilities and the way she plays.”

The Knights are 5-1 this season, with Workman earning all-tournament honors at the Chicago Christian Invitational.

“Going into my freshman year I didn’t even expect to be playing on the varsity,” Workman said. “It’s all been kind of a surprise to me, but I’m glad it worked out well and that I can help out my team in any way that I can.”



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