Five years ago, Santiam Christian volleyball coach Kelli Fitzpatrick heard the buzz about a hotshot seventh-grader.
She made a special effort to attend a match, and Emily Bourne didn't disappoint.
“I was like, 'Wow, that girl is talented for being so young,'” Fitzpatrick said. “It was fun to watch her.”
Bourne, a 6-foot senior outside hitter, has more than lived up to expectations for Santiam Christian. She made the starting lineup as a freshman for a 3A runner-up team and was first-team all-state on 3A championship teams in 2018 and 2019, earning 3A player of the year as a sophomore.
She was primed to put an exclamation point on a highly decorated career before moving on to play at Oregon State, but with her senior season in jeopardy due to the COVID-19 crisis, it appears as if she will exit without fanfare.
“It's pretty tough,” Bourne said. “I was like, my senior year, winning my third state championship in a row. It was a real hard blow for all this to happen.”
Despite her ability, Bourne has gone through some growing pains at Santiam Christian. The Eagles, with nine state titles since 1997, have been stocked with talent for years, and when Bourne arrived, she had plenty to learn from more experienced teammates.
“She came in with really strong girls above her, not just ability-wise, but leadership-wise,” Fitzpatrick said. “So her freshman year, she really took the time to let them mentor her.”
Bourne said the 2017 season was “kind of nerve-racking” as the only freshman on the team.
“It definitely took a little bit to learn,” Bourne said. “But my sophomore year, once they were gone, I was like, 'OK guys, this is our chance, let's get a state championship.'”
Losing in the final as a freshman lit a fire under Bourne, who came back as a sophomore ready to show the way.
“I was like, 'This is a really great group of girls, and I think we can do it,'” Bourne said. “That's when I really came into the leadership. I just realized that somebody's got to be the leader and get this team to the state championship.”
Fitzpatrick could see the change in Bourne from her freshman to sophomore year.
“She walked in her freshman year a little bit like, 'OK, I've got this,'” Fitzpatrick said. “She was so dominant in her junior high program. She was so far above everyone, so when she came in and made varsity, I think she felt like she was still going to have that status.
“It didn't take long for her to realize that, you know, we appreciated her, and we needed her, but she had a lot to learn about how to be a humble leader. It took her freshman year to learn that, and then she started to come into her own as a sophomore. Her junior year, we saw huge improvement.”
Bourne had 395 kills as a sophomore, capping the season with a 21-kill, 21-dig performance in a state championship win over Cascade Christian. She finished her junior season with 443 kills, collecting 20 kills and 12 digs to beat Creswell in the final.
Fitzpatrick said she saw “huge improvement” in Bourne in 2019, on and off the court.
“There are a lot of athletes that get to that level and kind of feel like, 'I know what I'm doing, I don't really need you,'” Fitzpatrick said. “She's not like that. She's sitting there going, 'OK, tell me what to do, and I'll do it.'”
Bourne was a big reason why the Eagles went 26-0 in 2019. She did not repeat as 3A player of the year, however, as the honor went to teammate Kassie Staton, now on the team at George Fox University.
Bourne talked with several Ivy League schools and Texas Tech – the alma mater of her parents and grandparents – before deciding on Oregon State. She had established a rapport with Beavers coach Mark Barnard and assistant Arica Nassar from attending youth camps at Oregon State.
The Beavers like the length and athleticism of Bourne, who has a standing reach of 7 feet, 10 inches, and a 10-1 approach jump.
“He basically said that I have a lot of potential, especially if I grow my vertical and get smarter on the court,” Bourne said of Barnard. “You don't want a player that's already reached their max. You want a player that's still going to grow.”
Bourne stopped playing basketball after her freshman season but has continued with track. As a sophomore, she set a school record in the discus (111-2) and cleared 5-2 in the high jump, placing eighth and fifth, respectively, at the state meet.
“I love track and would love to participate this year, but I'm going to have to see how the seasons cross over,” she said.
Bourne participated in sand volleyball during the summer and 4-on-4 club matches in the fall. Santiam Christian didn't get back in the gym until Feb. 1, however, and with seven seniors to replace, the Eagles have lots of work to do if the shortened season is able to begin as scheduled March 1.
“I'm excited to get back on the court and be with my high school team,” Bourne said. “We haven't been able to do too much, and be with each other and build that bond.”
Fitzpatrick said that it is critical for the highly social Bourne to be connected to her teammates.
“She loves the game, loves the social aspect, the teamwork,” Fitzpatrick said. “She has all those aspects that have gotten her to where she is. She's so dedicated. She eats, sleeps and breathes the sport. She's incredibly passionate about the game, so watching her progression has been really fun.”