Oct. 8, 2004
By Bo Rottenborn
One has to imagine it is rare to win an individual conference championship after having no intention of even competing collegiately in the sport. Senior Emily Loomis, a standout on the Notre Dame volleyball team as well as the 2003 BIG EAST outdoor champion in the high jump, fits into that category.
Not only did she have no plans to compete for the Irish track and field team, it also was not even the first choice as a secondary sport for Loomis, an extraordinary all-around athlete: “My mom had told me to keep my mind open to doing track in college, but I had always thought that if I did another sport, it would be basketball. I didn’t want to jump any more. I had had enough of track in high school, and I wasn’t interested in doing it any longer. When I arrived at Notre Dame, I was adamant that I was not competing in track.”
But following her first collegiate volleyball season, in which she immediately stepped into the starting lineup and was third on the team in kills, head coach Debbie Brown presented her with a possibility first voiced by assistant track and field coach Scott Winsor.
“I couldn’t turn down the challenge or the opportunity,” says Loomis. “When it actually came up, and they asked me, `Do you want to jump?’ I said, `Yeah. Why not? I can do that.’ I’m really glad I did.”
Notre Dame has had a long and storied tradition of two-sport varsity athletes that includes such legendary names as Joe Theismann, Edward “Moose” Krause, Tony Rice, Johnny Mohardt, Bob Golic, Beth Morgan, and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. Yet during the 2002-03 academic year, Loomis did what no other Irish student-athlete had ever done – earned all-conference honors in two distinctly different sports. In addition to being a first-team all-BIG EAST honoree in volleyball, she gained all-league accolades in the high jump at both the indoor and outdoor BIG EAST Championships. Heading into her final season, Loomis holds a total of six all-BIG EAST honors – four in track and field and two in volleyball.
If her conference title doesn’t do so, a few numbers illustrate simply her leaping prowess. Loomis’ personal best in the high jump is 5 feet, 11-1/4 inches, a height better than the qualifying mark of two athletes that competed in the event at the Athens Olympics last summer. In approach jumping – taking three sets to simulate going up for an attack in volleyball – Loomis has touched as high as 10 feet, 6-1/2 inches. Brown asserts that during her 20 years as a collegiate head coach, she has never had a player jump higher than that.
“She is an enormously gifted athlete,” says Brown. “Her physical skills are phenomenal, and the height she is able to play above the net is pretty unique. Not many players in the country are able to do that.”
That jumping ability has allowed Loomis to be an impact player for the Irish volleyball team. Late last season, she became the 14th student-athlete in Notre Dame history to register 1,000 career kills, and she has a realistic chance at finishing among the top five in that group. Loomis also ranks among the Irish all-time leaders in solo blocks (T-5th, 73), kill average (7th, 3.16), matches with 10+ kills (7th, 59), and matches with 20+ kills (T-7th, 6). Through the first three weeks of the ’04 season, she had started 96 of the 99 matches during her career, including 59 in a row. She had appeared in 97.1% of the games over the past four seasons (344 of 354), which ranks as the highest percentage in school history.
Loomis led the Irish in kills in each of the last two seasons, gaining all-Northeast Region honors from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) on both occasions. She was a first-team all-BIG EAST honoree in 2002 before being named the Most Outstanding Player at the conference tournament. As a junior, Loomis gained second-team all-league accolades and also was tabbed honorable mention All-America by the AVCA.
Upon joining the track and field team, Loomis immediately established herself as the squad’s top high jumper. She took third in both the indoor and outdoor BIG EAST meets in 2002, contributing six crucial points as the Irish captured their first-ever indoor team title by two points over Georgetown. In 2003, she was unbeaten in three meets in the regular season before finishing second at the BIG EAST Indoor Championships and narrowly missing a berth in the NCAA meet, ending up among the top 50 jumpers in the nation. Loomis then broke through at the outdoor conference meet to claim first place, completing her unlikely non-volleyball journey that began at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Her start in the high jump came as a freshman in high school – after having jumped in grade school “maybe twice” – in a setting unlikely to produce an athlete as accomplished as Loomis: “Our high school had a gravel track until my senior year and our high jump pit wasn’t very nice, but it was paved. The mats were things that little kids jumped on at the football games, and they would always come apart. So you’d land in the pit, dust would fly up, and you would land in the crack between the mats.”
Despite Bishop Luers’ status as a budding track and field program, Loomis’ all-around prep career was nothing short of phenomenal, as she was a four-year letterwinner in volleyball, basketball, and track and field, as well as a seven-time all-state honoree and a two-time All-American. In addition to being named to Volleyball magazine’s prestigious “Fab 50” list as one of the top 50 players in the country, she also earned All-America honors in her primary sport in 1997 and was an all-Indiana honoree in 1999 and 2000.
A four-time all-state performer in track and field – including setting school records in both high jump and long jump – Loomis was a 2001 All-American in the high jump. She also scored more than 1,000 points for the Knights’ basketball team and was a member of the first girls’ team ever to win three consecutive Indiana state championships (1999-2001). Loomis elected to forego the 2004 track and field season in order to concentrate fully on preparing for her final volleyball campaign. Among the early highlights of this season for Loomis and the rest of the Irish volleyball squad were a near-upset of #2 Nebraska (which eventually ended in a 3-2 loss) and a tournament title at the Cal Poly Invitational.
She is eagerly awaiting her return to the high jump pit, which she intends to make next spring, a time she sees as a chance to soar to even greater heights.
“I would like to make it to the NCAA Championships. I would like to get closer to my potential of where I can jump. I don’t think I’ve reached that yet, so I’m very excited to have the opportunity to focus completely on jumping.”