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'It’s just surreal'; Kenai Central student wins Gatorade Player of the Year award

Emma Beck spiking a ball
Todd Ramoth
Right-side hitter Emma Beck spiking a ball

If you’ve attended a recent Kenai Central High School varsity volleyball game, you can feel the energy and enthusiasm of its players. The team has won the 3A state championship two years in a row, the only championships in the team’s history.

Right-side hitter Emma Beck was instrumental in leading the team to these victories. Throughout her high school career, she has won MaxPreps’ Player of the Year award for Alaska, the 3A state tournament’s Most Outstanding Hitter award and others. She has also competed in all-region and all-state volleyball teams, and has played basketball competitively.

“I’ve been involved in volleyball pretty much my whole life,” Beck said. “My sister played volleyball, so I’ve been watching her since I was as little as I can remember. When I first started competing in volleyball, it was about third grade, there was a little group out in Nikiski that was called the SuperSonics.”

For more than a decade, winners of the volleyball division of the Gatorade Player of the Year award have been students from larger schools, like South High School or Dimond High School in Anchorage. Beck says it’s been her goal to win since she first heard about the award.

“I knew I was in the running for it, but we just have so many amazing athletes in Alaska,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t a for sure thing or I wasn’t counting on it, I knew that I had a chance. A 3A athlete hasn’t won it for a long time in volleyball, so I was just excited to represent the smaller schools in Alaska.”

The award not only recognizes athletic achievements, but also academic excellence and exemplary character. Beck is the school’s student body president, and has maintained a 4.0 grade point average. She has also volunteered to support fundraising efforts for students facing homelessness and cancer research, while also serving as a middle school volleyball coach.

Tracie Beck is Kenai Central High’s head volleyball coach, and is credited with building on and improving the team’s skills. She is also Emma’s mom.

“It’s just surreal to be 100% honest, because being her mom and her coach is not always the easiest position for a kid to be in, because coaching consumes me,” Tracie said. “She doesn’t get a ride home and just talk about how her day was. I am constantly thinking of what we can do to improve. It’s an amazing journey to watch your child go through, I feel like I’m really lucky and blessed to kind of be in that front-row seat and a part of this journey with her.”

While the team won the majority of its matches this season, Tracie says both she and her daughter were equally disappointed by the losses the team encountered. For Emma, it was difficult seeing her mom work as hard as she does for the team, and still experience a loss.

With all the achievements both the team and Emma have secured over the last two years, Tracie says it’s all still sinking in.

“You are on this adventure and have these goals and dreams together,” Tracie said. “To see them come to fruition is just unbelievable, to be 100% honest. Just surreal.”

“I just knew we were going to do whatever we needed to do to win, no matter what that meant for each individual,” Emma said. “They’re just so unselfish the way they play, the way we just all lift each other up, and I knew each one of them had my back no matter what. Kenai volleyball with my mom coaching, the culture she’s created and just the atmosphere and energy we try to emulate, I wouldn’t have wanted to do this with any other program.”

Emma says that one of her favorite reasons for winning the Gatorade award is that it brings light to Alaska’s smaller communities.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL