Emillie Toone Checketts is a native of American Fork, UT and competed at the highest levels of the NCAA, trained with both Team USA and Team Canada, and won a national championship in the Slovenian professional league! In addition to her playing career, Emillie was also an assistant coach for the women’s volleyball team at BYU.
So, it’s safe to say that Emillie knows a thing or two about volleyball! I had the privilege of being one of Emillie’s teammates at the University of Utah and I’ve been looking forward to doing an interview with her since I started BreakOut Sports. Read on to learn about overcoming injuries, how to get recruited at the college, professional, and national team levels, and how to make the tough decisions that come with big opportunities.
BOS: Was there anything in particular that you did in high school that helped you to get recruited?
EC: Starting my sophomore year, I began contacting schools that I was interested in or who had shown interest in me at that point. Due to my height, many colleges contacted me and showed interest in me, regardless of my skill level at that point.
BOS: What was it about the University of Utah that interested you? What led up to your decision to commit there and how old were you when you committed?
EC: My top two schools were BYU and the University of Utah. Growing up my sister and I talked about playing together in college. Once she decided to choose Utah, I seriously looked into the program at the University of Utah. I fell in love with the girls and the coaches and knew that it was the right fit for me.
BOS: You had a serious knee injury in college and had to sit out for a season. What helped you to get back onto the court? What advice would you give players who are dealing with injuries?
EC: I had a goal to play on the National Team and no matter the set back, I was going to accomplish that. If it wasn’t for great coaches and trainers to help me each day, as well as the support from teammates, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. The advice I would give is to set a goal that pushes you, and no matter the set back, do everything in your power to achieve that goal. You have to want that goal bad, and if you do, you will be willing to give it everything it takes.
BOS: At what point did you start thinking about playing professionally? Did you use an agency? How was your experience with them?
EC: After playing in college, I knew that I was either going to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or go play professionally. After much prayer, I knew that I should go play professionally. I was blessed to know an agent already in Europe, who had worked with the University of Utah program in the past. The agent that I chose was Cory Solomon from Bring It USA. I felt that they were fair and treated me extremely well. I had the experience that I did because of them. I was always paid on time, which I know is a problem with most players playing overseas.
BOS: What was your experience like playing professionally? How can college players prepare themselves to play professionally?
EC: I had the time of my life. I was in Slovenia, and while in Europe I was able to play great competition and travel and experience Europe at the same time. Most of our practices/games were at night, so the morning was left to exploring the area around us. My roommate (the other foreign player) was from Scotland, so our days consisted of the following: wake-up, go workout together (not required) which consisted of cardio and lifting, lunch (bought by our club), practice somewhere for two hours between 4-9pm. If we didn’t workout in the morning, we would get on a bus and go visit a site somewhere. Mornings and afternoons were very relaxed, and then evenings were competitive and intense.
My coach did not speak English, so he would yell at us and it was kind of nice to not know what he was saying most of the time. All of the players spoke English, so they would translate that which they thought was relevant information. Our league consisted of teams from Slovenia, Croatia, Germany, Bosnia, and Italy. So every other weekend we were traveling to these incredibly gorgeous countries. We ended up finishing second in league. At the end of league play, there is a tournament between teams from your specific country. We ended up doing something in Slovenia which had never been done, and that was to beat Maribor to win the National Championship!
The advice I would give for college players on how to prepare is start educating themselves on different agents and different areas to play. Some agents aren’t consistent at paying their players. Some countries are safer to play in for your first year compared to others. Talk to current players who are playing overseas and your coaches on what is a good area and agent to look into.
BOS: You had the experience of representing the US as a part of the A2 team (am I getting that right?). What led up to this experience? Did you tryout for the team or were you recruited to it or a combination of both?
EC: Since I was 16 I tried out for the USA Team every year. Each age group has a different level of the USA Team. I was blessed to make the A2 team one year, which was an incredible experience playing with top athletes from around the US. We trained for a week and a half, then we played in the Adult Nationals tournament.
The Spring after my Senior year I tried out again, hoping that I wasn’t done playing, and that the USA staff would give me one more chance. I received an e-mail asking me if I would go with the National Team to Egypt to train and compete with them. It was incredible to learn from the top coaches in the world, and train with some of the best players in the world. It was humbling because I was nowhere near the level that some of them were, but I was so grateful for that opportunity.
BOS: What helped you to be confident or grow your confidence playing at the highest levels of competition? What advice would you give players who are aspiring to play at the highest levels?
EC: My parents, and the coaches that I had really helped push me to believe in the goals that I had set. I was, and still am, very uncoordinated. I knew that it was going to take a lot of work to be the kind of player that I wanted to be. I constantly had to remind myself of my goals. I would go in and get extra work daily on speed and agility training. I knew that if I was going to work to be the best Middle Blocker in the Nation, I had to get faster and stronger.
The advice that I would give is if you REALLY want a certain goal, ask yourself, “what am I willing to do to achieve that goal?” For me it was extra reps after practice, and more strength and agility training. Every team in the country is getting the same amount of practice time, so what are you going to do to be better than someone else? It has to come from you!
BOS: After your playing career, you coached for a while at BYU. Do you have any advice for players who want to transition to a career in coaching someday?
EC: I wanted to continue to be involved with volleyball and give back in whatever way that I could. I loved coaching at BYU. I felt however, that 20% of my job was coaching. There is a lot that coaches do that players might not even realize. Coaches are constantly recruiting, watching film, organizing matches (whether that be Spring ball, pre-season or season matches), making travel arrangements, purchasing gear, organizing camps for the Summer, etc. There is a lot of busy work, but it is still so fun and rewarding!
BOS: What has your athletic career done for you as a person? What does it mean to you now?
EC: My career taught me valuable lifelong lessons that I use daily. Here are a few: the importance of daily exercise, a healthy diet, how to work with others, how to communicate in public situations, how to communicate with authority figures, how to balance all of the demands of life, how to have fun doing what I love, etc. I am grateful for my experience playing on the many teams that I did, and for the lessons that I learned from my coaches and teammates.
BOS: What are you doing now?
EC: The Summer after Slovenia, I trained with Team Canada. I was born in Canada, so I was able to train with the USA or Canadian National Teams. However, I had to pick one. The Canadian coaches asked if I would play for them and if I would be willing to commit to a 6 year contract. At that point, since I had already played for the USA National Team, Canada had to buy me over, which is around a $15,000 cost. The USA coaches called me because Canada had been talking to them and they asked what I would like to do? I then asked them what my potential was playing for the USA National Team and Hugh McCutcheon told me that I would have to commit to 6 years if not more to the USA team if I wanted a chance.
I remember praying about what to do and I remember getting a distinct answer that it was now time to get married and start a family. So, I decided after training with Team Canada that I was done. Now, not long after, I am married to my best friend, and we have been blessed with four little boys. I am a stay at home mom and am kept busy by a four year old, twin two year olds, and a one year old. I continue to stay involved with local high schools with their volleyball programs, but I truly enjoy being a wife and a mother. This is my dream job!
A huge thanks to Emillie for sharing her experiences and giving us some great advice! If you’ve got a story to tell that could help the athletes of tomorrow, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to read more great stories like Emillie’s? Check out the BreakOut Sports blog for inspiring stories and recruiting advice!