Emma Bartlett ’20 named Brandeis nominee for 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year Award

August 28, 2020

Emma Bartlett ’20, a four-year starting middle blocker on the volleyball team, was named Brandeis’ nominee for the 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year Award in early July. She is just the second player in Brandeis volleyball history to receive an honorable mention, All-American honoree by the American Volleyball Coaches Association during her junior season, according to a Brandeis Judges article

Bartlett was named to the second-team All-University Athletic Association (UAA) during her junior and senior seasons and helped the Judges to fifth place as a junior, the team’s best finish in almost a decade.

She is extremely humbled to be receiving the Brandeis nomination for the 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year award. Thinking back on her time spent growing up and playing the sport, she could not even imagine having the opportunity to compete at the Division III level someday. 

“The empowerment when participating in women’s sports is invaluable and I couldn’t imagine going through college without a team of powerful women to support me throughout,” she wrote to The Brandeis Hoot. “I do hope that through this award more female student-athletes will be inspired to take their talents to the next level and find their own unforgettable experiences and lifelong lessons.”

“I chose Brandeis firstly because of the academics, which were rigorous but flexible to allow me to explore different disciplines,” Bartlett wrote to The Brandeis Hoot. “This was paired with the strong sense of community I felt from the smaller campus, and of course the team.” Unlike other athletic conferences in Division III of the NCAA, athletes in the University Athletic Association (UAA) are able to travel to cities across the east coast and midwest of the United States to compete, another aspect that appealed to Bartlett. 

Alesia Vaccari Bennett, who has been the head coach of the volleyball team for the past five seasons, met Bartlett while she was still in high school. Bennett and Bartlett met at a volleyball camp at Tufts University when Bartlett approached Bennett with her interest in attending Brandeis and playing volleyball. 

“She was very athletic and her gymnastics training and tennis experience helped her volleyball skills,” Bennett wrote in an email to The Hoot. “I knew she could do great things in our program. Emma [Bartlett] has been a four year starter and every single day at practice she worked to improve and learned how to use her body efficiently and effectively in the position she was playing.” 

Bennett’s proudest moment as Bartlett’s coach was during the 2018 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) tournament where the Judges advanced to the semifinals. 

“In the fifth set of the match, our whole team was exhausted due to travel and back-to-back games,” Bennett wrote. “I could see the fatigue taking its toll on our play, but after a time out, we took the court and won the match with critical kills and dominating blocks from Emma [Bartlett].” 

The best piece of advice that Bennett gave Bartlett during her career was to “control the controllables.” Bartlett explained that, in volleyball, it is easy to get caught up in what the opposing team is doing. “But, by placing the focus on ourselves and what we can control, because the only thing we truly can control is ourselves, we control the controllables. It’s certainly an important lesson to take out into the real world when dealing with situations in which we don’t have any control, except your own actions.”

Bartlett’s proudest moment during her collegiate career was during the UAA Championships her junior year during the 2018-2019 season. The team fought against the future 2018 NCAA Division III champions, Emory University, and won their first UAA game after a long stretch against Case Western University. “The feeling was ecstatic,” she wrote. “Every one of my teammates seriously put everything out on the court and were not satisfied until match point.”

During the fifth place match against New York University (NYU) at the 2018 championships, the Judges came back from two sets down to beat NYU, leading to Brandeis’ best UAA finish in almost a decade. “I still get chills thinking about that final point and everyone rushing to the center of the court,” she wrote. 

The defining moment of her Brandeis career was during a tournament in California where the team’s hard work led them to a 3-1 weekend. “We had the opportunity to compete on the other side of the country, and then pushed the reigning national champions, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, to a five-setter without fear and with such intensity,” Bartlett wrote. “It was one of those moments that everything clicked and I truly felt a ‘flow’ where nothing else mattered except for the play happening on that volleyball court.”

Like many athletes, Bartlett struggled through injury and had to learn to listen to her body. She sprained her ankle multiple times during the season and continued to play despite her injuries. “I definitely learned to listen to my body and vouch for my own wellbeing,” she told The Hoot. “I also used the training room to my advantage if there was something that didn’t quite feel right or just to do prehabilitation to properly prepare myself for the lengthy season that it is.”

“Never forget why you play the game,” Bartlett would tell current student athletes. “We elect to be a part of an extraordinary opportunity to represent our universities and attend these academically competitive schools … Never forget why you are there and be open to rediscovering new ways of revamping that passion”

Off the court, Bartlett was a double major in economics and environmental studies with a minor in Hispanic studies. She is currently on the job hunt, trying to narrow down her interests within a specific discipline within environmental studies, with the hopes of attending graduate school in the future. 

Barlett is one of seven female athletes in the UAA that were nominated for the award. Michelle Karabin ’20 of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Shivani Beall ’20 of Emory University were selected by the UAA to represent the conference in the NCAA Woman of the Year award, according to a press release by UAA. Bartlett, along with Emma Nicklas-Morries ’20 of CMU, Ilissa Hamilton ’20 of Case Western Reserve University, Laura Darcey ’20 and Agnes Lo ’20 of University of Chicago were all considered for the UAA nomination but were ultimately nominated by their respective schools for the award. 

Bartlett is now one of three female athletes at Brandeis that have been nominated for this award. She joins four-time national champion and nine-time All-American cross country and track and field athlete Emily Bryson ’19, one of two UAA representatives for the award in 2019, according to an earlier Hoot article, and Michaela Friedman ’17, a two-time All-American defender and Brandeis’ 2017 nominee, according to an article from Brandeis Judges.

605 female athletes were nominated for the 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year award, the most in the program’s history. The NCAA Woman of the Year Award was established in 1991 “to recognize graduating female athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service and leadership throughout their collegiate career,” according to the NCAA website

Nominees for the award span all three divisions within the NCAA, with 259 nominees from Division I schools, 126 from Division II schools and 220 from Division III schools. After the initial nomination phase, the Woman of the Year selection committee within the NCAA will choose the top 30 honorees, 10 from each division. The 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year will be announced in the fall. 

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