Foster sets volleyball up to keep tallying the wins

Watching setter Emily Foster lead the Tommies to another victory, fans would not guess that the All-American did not begin her volleyball career until seventh grade.

Emily Foster was an All-State setter for Hopkins after starting volleyball in seventh grade. (Josh Kleven/TommieMedia)
Emily Foster was an All-State setter for Hopkins senior year after just starting volleyball in seventh grade. (Josh Kleven/TommieMedia)

That’s because female sports were not very popular in London, where Foster lived for most of her childhood. Her mother’s job took Foster to England for four years, from second until seventh grade. While she planned to return to the United States, she didn’t expect to play volleyball.

“They barely had girls’ sports [in London], so I was on the boys’ teams,” Foster said. “I actually played basketball. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with basketball. I couldn’t play there though, because I wasn’t allowed to be on that team. So when I came back and didn’t want to be the worst on the team, I decided to play volleyball randomly.”

The decision soon turned into confirmation of Foster’s talent. After a year of learning the sport, Foster was moved to the B-team in eighth grade, and then jumped to being a starter for the Hopkins varsity team her freshman year. She was a two-time All-Conference award winner, and she helped her team win a State Consolation Championship her junior year, earning herself an All-State honor.

Moving from the B-team to varsity was a transition that was key to her career.

“Something happened where I figured out how to use my body so it wasn’t lanky and awkward,” she said. Foster credited her improvement to the encouragement of club coaches and her extra time spent on the court.

Becoming a Tommie

Now a junior majoring in psychology at St. Thomas, Foster said she had difficulty selecting a college. She was persuaded by Thahn Pham, a past club volleyball coach and her current coach at St. Thomas.

“Thanh was a coach at my club and everyday he’d be like, ‘You wanna come to St. Thomas? You should come to St. Thomas, it would be fun,’” Foster said.

She said other coaches would call too often and bother her, but Pham was not that way and she liked that. Ultimately, she chose St. Thomas because of Pham’s guidance.

Coming into a successful volleyball program and playing with now-former Tommie greats such as Katie McCaffrey and Katie Kremer may have been nerve-racking for some, but not for Foster.

Foster has helped St. Thomas go 36-1 in the MIAC since she joined the team. (Josh Kleven/TommieMedia)
Foster has helped St. Thomas go 36-1 in the MIAC since she joined the team. (Josh Kleven/TommieMedia)

“I don’t think I felt nervous,” she said, adding that Kremer’s humor, the kindness of upperclassmen and the standard they set for winning made her first years easy.

The calm and confident presence that Foster carries on the court is evident, as she looks to help her teammates remain collected.

“With this team there are a lot of emotional ups and downs. I try and be calm…even if I’m not,” she said. “I used to get really mad and let it affect my game, but now, I’m better at letting go … usually.”

What keeps her coming back for more

Foster said she enjoys the energy and competition.

“I kind of love that any team can win, really. It’s momentum,” she said. “St. Mary’s beat St. Ben’s last week, and yet we killed St. Mary’s,” she said. “It shows that if you try really hard, even if you’re worse, and you get the momentum going, while keeping your emotions in check, there will be times you can beat a team that is way better than you talent-wise.”

The excitement is felt especially after a great kill or block, Foster said.

“Blocks are my favorite thing in life,” she said. “It’s like, ‘You’re rejected, no you can’t beat me, I’m stronger than you.’ It’s probably because I can’t hit, so it’s the only thing I have that’s sweet.”

While she may think that blocks are the only thing that’s sweet, most would say her statistics are too. With more than 3,600 career sets and counting, Foster is on her way to shattering MIAC career records. In three years, she has been named MIAC Setter of the Week five times and was a American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American last year. She has also led the Tommies to a 73-13 overall record and 36-1 in the MIAC over the past three seasons.

Sally Schreiber can be reached at