Emily Cotter's bruised and beaten body always reminds her that there was a volleyball match the night before.
The discolored blotches of skin and achy knees are a welcomed feeling and sight, she said, because for the junior for Western Washington University's volleyball team, those are evidence that she did all she could to help the Vikings to victory.
"I would love to wake up every morning feeling sore if I knew it meant we won every game," she said in a phone interview.
Victory, in large part, has more times than not been the remedy to her postgame wariness.
Cotter and WWU, after posting a 23-3 overall record and a Great Northwest Conference leading 16-2 mark, are set to face Sonoma State in the first round of the NCAA Division II West Regional tournament Thursday, Dec. 5, in San Bernardino, Calif. The Vikings enter winners of nine consecutive matches, having only dropped two sets in the near month-long run.
Statistics leave much to the imagination when describing Cotter's role for the 10th-ranked team in the country. As a defensive-minded player, she doesn't accumulate floor-thumping kills like her teammate, Kayla Erickson, or loft well-placed aces like sophomore Jennica McPherson. No, she prefers a rather grittier form of impacting her team.
"My primary goal is to keep the ball alive, and I will do anything to keep the ball from hitting the ground," she said.
Her body may not entirely appreciate the by-any-means-necessary approach she employs, but the diving, sprawling, gliding and full-blown reckless abandonment she plays with has proven to be a working formula.
Her teammates, specifically, have come to appreciate that all-out mentality.
"Any ball that is hit her way, she always gets digs that nobody thinks are possible," said senior hitter Emily Boerger in a phone interview.
The Curtis High School product ranks second on the team with 248 digs - each adding to the next-day soreness she's so fond of - and her three-year career has yielded 590 total as a member of the WWU volleyball team.
Digs may not provide the type of impact a kill does, but to her, the one-handed stab at a ball destined for the floor is equally as powerful.
"I bring the energy and spark to the court," said Cotter, making known the particularly momentum-driving nature of volleyball. "Any game where we are down by a few points and I come in, that's when I need to get things going and create an atmosphere on the court that will translate to more point."
Success and WWU volleyball are near synonymous terms, evidenced by the GNAC conference championship and nearly flawless 23-3 record, but this season has also handed the team moments of adversity. The Vikings hit a rough two-game losing streak in the middle of October, falling to Alaska-Anchorage and Seattle Pacific in five sets and four sets, respectively. At the time, WWU had not lost in Sam Carver Gymnasium for the better part of two years dating back to 2011.
It was during that stretch that Cotter, characterized by Boerger as being someone who provides the team with a sense inspiration, took it upon herself to just be more.
"I think in volleyball, the more energy you have, it makes people around you more relaxed," Cotter said.
The Vikings have yet to taste defeat since that four-set loss to Seattle Pacific on Oct. 24, in Carver Gym, and their eyes are set on a Sonoma State team that gave WWU its first loss of the season on Sept. 14.
"It's a perfect time for revenge," said Cotter, who acknowledged that the team the Vikings faced in mid-September won't be the team they will face Thursday.
The Seawolves enter winners of five straight, holding a competent 25-5 record on the season after finishing second in their conference behind Cal State San Bernardino.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. DEPTH KEY FOR SEAWOLVES
Sonoma State boasted five different players that recorded 10 or more kills in its matchup with the Vikings on Sept. 14. Caylie Seitz, a second-team all-west region outside hitter, led the way in that game with 17 kills.
2. ACCURACY KILLS
The Vikings rank seventh amongst all D-II schools with a 27.4 kill percentage. Sonoma State, coincidentally, ranks sixth in the nation with a 27.6 kill percentage. WWU will try to use its stout defense to keep the Seawolves off their proficient offensive game.
3. ERICKSON LEADING THE WAY
The Vikings boast a well-rounded offensive attack, but much of it keys off the success of junior middle blocker Kayla Erickson. Erickson, the 2013 GNAC Player of the Year, leads the team with 313 kills on the season. Senior Emily Boerger