The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Emmy Klika: ‘You have to embrace the pressure’

Junior+Emmy+Klika+%2812%29+screams+in+celebration+after+winning+a+point+during+a+match+against+Georgia+Tech+at+the+Fitzgerald+Field+House+on+Oct.+7%2C+2023.
Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor
Junior Emmy Klika (12) screams in celebration after winning a point during a match against Georgia Tech at the Fitzgerald Field House on Oct. 7, 2023.

Back in November, Pitt volleyball was in the midst of their most important game of the season. The Petersen Events Center was rocking, and the Panthers were tied with the Cardinals 14-14 in the fifth set.

Louisville senior outside hitter Anna DeBeer dominated Pitt all game long, especially when hitting cross-court. DeBeer looked to do it again on this crucial set point. She just needed to get it past Pitt junior libero Emmy Klika.

Klika has worked to become Pitt’s libero — the all-rotation passer in Pitt’s back row — ever since she got to Pittsburgh as a first-year in 2021, but her younger self didn’t take volleyball all too seriously.

“I started playing volleyball mostly because all my friends were playing it,” Klika said. “It was what everyone was doing.” 

Klika focused on other sports while growing up in Novelty, Ohio. She was a star softball player who broke Gilmour Academy records for season batting average and on-base percentage. 

But as Klika’s on-base percentage and batting average continued to rise throughout high school, so did her love for volleyball. She eventually had to choose between softball and volleyball. 

“I was very much open to playing either [sport] in college and seeing what opportunities came my way,” Klika said. “And the recruiting for softball was a little slower than volleyball at the time … So I just started getting a lot more interest early for volleyball. With that, I just started loving it and picturing myself committing to playing [volleyball] every single day.”

One of the schools that showed interest in Klika was Pitt, and associate head coach Kellen Petrone was impressed by Klika’s accuracy as a passer. His rizz eventually convinced her to commit to Pitt. 

“She was someone that the ball always went to target,” Petrone said. “She wasn’t that flashy player, but over time, if you were statting her passing, when you were watching her, it was always good.”

Klika didn’t stick out vocally to graduate student outside hitter Kayla Lund, but her competitiveness was apparent.

“At first she was a little bit on the quiet side, but so sweet and an ultra-competitor,” Lund said. “She has a different kind of competitive to her. Not a super in-your-face competitiveness, but she’s going to be one of the first people in [the gym]. She is going to try to work harder than everybody.” 

Petrone noticed Klika’s perseverance as well, along with the obvious talent that she has as a libero.

“Her overall talent was pretty obvious when she got here,” Petrone said. “What stood out most about her was her serve receive and her work ethic.”

Despite her obvious talent, Kilka wasn’t just given the libero jersey when she got to campus. She only played in 24 sets during her first year but slowly started to earn more playing time in her sophomore year.

Eventually, Klika earned the starting libero job after shining when she was subbed in by head coach Dan Fisher against Georgia Tech. 

“When [Fisher] came up to me after [the Georgia Tech game] and told me I would be in the starting role, it was a really special moment,” Klika said. “I had been working for so long and so hard to get there.”

Kellen saw Klika’s work ethic and knew that she would eventually take the starting role because of how prepared she was.

“She could have been the libero all along,” Petrone said. “She was preparing for her moment all along, and when she got it, she was ready. She wasn’t just waiting til she was a starter to start playing really good.”

Klika’s physical ability to earn the jersey was half the battle — she still had to show she was capable of what Lund says is the leadership aspect of the position.

“[Liberos] are the leader, and I expect them to be the leader of our defense in the back row,” Lund said. “If you say one thing as a leader, you better actually do it, and that is something [Emmy] actually does really well.”

The libero isn’t just a leader for a defense. It is a position that needs a willingness to take some bumps and bruises and have this otherworldly confidence, which is where Klika digs into her own strength and perspective.

“As a defender, you are getting some of the hardest hits at you and making some of these crazy plays that give your team momentum,” Klika said. “My mentality is knowing that I can dig every ball and when it doesn’t happen, being like, ‘Oh, it’s weird that I didn’t dig that.’ You have to tell yourself what you want to feel.”

In the 2023 season, Klika’s confidence glistened throughout. The junior libero finished the season with 344 digs, a .948 reception percentage on the 460 times she was targeted in serve-receive and hundreds of covers off the block — all helping Klika earn AVCA All-East Coast Region Team honors. 

Despite consistently proving that she is a top libero in the region, Klika had to do it on one of the biggest stages against No. 4 Louisville in the Petersen Events Center.

Tied 14-14, the Louisville outside hitter went up, soaring over the net and went to her trusty cross-court shot, but this time, the shot didn’t work. Klika dug the ball perfectly off her forearms and kept the set point alive for the Panthers — a set point Pitt needed to win, or they would fail to earn an ACC Championship and home-court advantage throughout the NCAA Tournament.

Because of Klika’s dig, all the momentum fell out of Louisville’s sails, and Pitt cruised to a much-needed victory over the Cardinals. It’s a moment that Klika feels confident in because of what she does every day at practice.

“You have to embrace the pressure,” Klika said. “To feel confident, I just work really hard in the gym every day so I can go into the game and trust what I have done and trust my training. And know that I am capable of passing anything.”

Despite making these impressive plays in the biggest moments, Klika will never gloss over the honor of being Pitt’s libero.

“I definitely don’t take wearing the jersey lightly,” Klika said. “There’s only one person who gets to [wear it], and your role as libero is extremely important to the team. Every day, I am grateful to put that jersey on and give my team the best opportunity to win.”

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer