By Brent Rogness, Photography by Nick Friesen
Somewhere roaming the halls of Fargo South High School is Emily Stroup, a brilliant senior student with a 3.97 grade point average. After careful consideration, she will soon spend her next four years studying at Oxford.
Oxford, Mississippi that is.
Beyond her academic brilliance is a six-foot, right-handed volleyball virtuoso who possesses a scarce combination of height, athleticism, and finesse. If you could build your prototypical player, most of the required attributes would match those of Emily Stroup.
Somewhere in Oxford, the Ole Miss Rebels coaching staff eagerly awaits her arrival.
And somewhere in Fargo, you’ll find Bob and Suzanne Stroup, parents of a line of Fargo South athletic excellence, dating back to the turn of the century, preparing to say goodbye to their final Bruin. A girl who has evolved from little sister, to window breaker, to bridge builder, to Rebel.
The Little Sister
The sheer amount of athleticism in the Stroup family is Manning-like — a tip-of-the-cap to famous Ole Miss athlete Archie Manning, the NFL legend and father of current gridiron stars Peyton and Eli.
Emily’s father played football at the University of Minnesota. Emily’s older sisters Laura (2002) and Amy (2007) each led the Bruins to North Dakota state volleyball titles in their senior season. Her brother Bobby was a standout linebacker on South’s 2004 state championship team. Amy went on to play basketball and volleyball at the University of North Dakota, while Bobby had collegiate football stops at UND and the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Laura was finishing high school when Emily was in kindergarten.
“Laura is 12 years older than me. I think I went to my first volleyball game when I was one or two months old,” says Emily.
Emily credits much of her athletic success to the guidance of her sisters, who have skillfully walked the line of being constructive mentors and supportive siblings.
“My sisters always give me critiques in both sports after games. The support system they are for me… it’s nice having them. They’ve helped me get where I am now,” Emily adds. “Amy lives in Fargo and has come to almost all the games. Laura, who lives in Minneapolis, gets to all that she can. It’s great having sisters like them.”
As a credible guidepost with plenty of her own on-court experience, Amy has become comfortable knowing when to hold back and when to contribute feedback.
“I have a pretty good read of Emily. Some games, you know to stay away,” says Amy. “I have it a little easier as a sister. I’m not a parent. I can kinda reach my way in and ask her. I get away with saying more to Emily than others do.”
The Window Breaker
The story of Emily Stroup’s rise to volleyball success begins with shattered garage windows.
“For hours on end in the backyard, she’d be hitting the ball off the garage,” recalls Amy. “I think she broke two windows on my parents’ garage. She loved doing it.”
Early on, mom had a sense that Emily possessed something special.
“In 6th grade, her 12 year-old division, it was obvious she had some talent above and beyond her age level. Even at Carl Ben (middle school), in her 7th grade year, I remember one time one of the coaches from the other team had complained to her coach that she shouldn’t be playing at that level,” Suzanne light-heartedly recalls.
The Bridge Builder
As an eighth grader, Emily’s talent became too much to ignore for a Fargo South program desperate for athletes.
The Bruins were coming off nine state tournament volleyball appearances in ten years. However, the newly-built Fargo Davies High School shifted district lines and emptied South’s cupboard of a considerable percentage of JV and varsity players. Looking for someone to step up beyond their years and take on varsity-level challenges, South’s volleyball and basketball programs turned to Emily Stroup to bridge the talent gap.
“When she was in eighth grade, they immediately pulled her up (to the Fargo South varsity). That’s kind of unheard of,” Emily’s mom recalls. “With the split, there was good and bad with that… growing pains when numbers are down and you’re rebuilding a program, but she’s loved playing for South.”
After missing the state tourney in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1994-1995, Stroup helped the Bruins cross back into tournament territory in 2013, her sophomore year, and also in 2014.
The summer lead-in to Emily’s senior season at Fargo South couldn’t have gone more smoothly. As a participant on the USA Olympic Junior A1 Red team, Emily helped her squad to an unforgettable gold-medal win at the USA High Performance International Championship Tournament.
Her final high school season finished with an impressive 18-5 record, but ended prematurely with a heartbreaking, 5-set loss to Grand Forks Red River in a state tournament qualifier. Emily considers this year’s squad the best she played with at South.
Ultimately, Emily’s siblings will always have North Dakota state titles as a unique feather in their hat compared to their youngest counterpart. Not that it means much.
“We try to hold our own a little bit with that argument,” jokes Amy. “Emily doesn’t say it, but we know. She played varsity for five years and is going to the SEC, so our little state championships don’t really hold their own in comparison.”
Andrea Butler coached Emily’s volleyball team at South for three years and also works with her as an assistant on the basketball team. She points to Emily’s skill set as a catalyst in restoring the roar to the Bruins Den.
“When I took over, having a player like Emily helped establish a winning culture and mindset. She has seen her sisters and brother excel in athletics and she’s seen what it takes,” says Butler, a former two-sport standout at rival West Fargo. “She was more than willing to go above and beyond what was necessary for us to turn the program around.”
Amy, who currently works in UND’s athletics department, adds, “She has an arm on her that every college volleyball program wishes they had. She’s a leader who will do really well (at Ole Miss). She’s learned a lot of things that some girls don’t learn until they reach college.”
With a career stat line of over 2000 kills and over 1900 assists, the numbers speak for themselves. If that isn’t impressive enough, Emily has also excelled on the basketball court, achieving the rare double-quadruple of over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
“I like basketball, but volleyball is my true passion. I’m excited to stick with that one and see how it goes,” says Emily. “I think ever since I was little I’ve always liked volleyball more than basketball.”
Charting Stroup’s journey to Mississippi takes a surprise detour through South Dakota. Stroup first landed on the radar of the Ole Miss staff when Angela Mooney, a former South Dakota State assistant, invited Stroup to the team’s 2014 May Elite Camp in Mississippi after moving south to join the Rebel staff.
Mooney remembers watching Stroup excel while playing on North Dakota’s biggest stage.
“While coaching at South Dakota State, I attended the North Dakota high school state tournament in Minot in 2013,” says Mooney. “That year, there were quite a few talented players competing but Emily just really stood out to me. She was physical, dynamic and played the overall game really well for her size and age. You could just tell she was a great overall athlete.”
“I sent her an intro letter and questionnaire from SDSU but didn’t hear from her,” remembers Mooney.
Emily eased into her college decision while sorting through recruiting letters and emails. Overtures came locally from North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota, as well as nationally prominent Division 1 programs such as Ohio State and Auburn.
In February 2014, Mooney got a new coaching job at Ole Miss. The change of scenery seemed to pique Emily’s attention.
“After assessing the future needs we had here at Ole Miss, it just made sense for me to contact Emily once again,” says Mooney. “I sent her an intro letter and our summer camp information. It was then that the
recruiting process with us really took off with her.”
Receiving the all-important blessing from mom and dad helped seal the deal.
“First they approached her to come down to an elite camp. I thought, ‘This will be a good opportunity for her to look at schools down there and make her mind up,’” says Suzanne. “They were looking at her as a setter. On the way home at the airport she told us they pulled her into the office and offered her a full ride for hitting. The coaching staff there was great and asked her to come back with family again because it was such a big decision.”
It was a decision Emily didn’t take lightly, and it was ultimately worth the wait.
“I was actually late signing. It was my junior year. In volleyball, it’s more common for girls to commit during freshman and sophomore years. I went on an unofficial visit (to Oxford) and I really liked it,” says Emily. “My family is always there for me. They always said, ‘It’s your decision and we’ll support you in whatever you do.’ They support me and we have so much Ole Miss gear already,” says Emily.
For good measure, mom occasionally checks her daughter’s barometer. The result is steady every time.
“I’ve asked her since if she’s comfortable with her decision, and she’s absolutely comfortable with it. Ole Miss was the fit for her. I think she’ll be very happy. Far away, but happy!”
In Emily’s opinion, being far away and happy is a little easier when considering the climatic advantages.
“I think it was 11 below here yesterday and I was Snapchatting the girls down there… It’s in the 50’s and 60’s there. I’m really excited for the weather change,” says Emily.
As for Bob and Suzanne, Emily’s graduation from Fargo South will mark the end of an era.
“We’ve had kids there for 16 years in the South basketball and volleyball program. It will be an adjustment next year going to games and not being nervous,” remarks Suzanne. “I can just pop in when I want. No more pasta feeds or uniforms to wash, but it’s been fun.”
As she closes the book on her decorated high-school career and begins writing a new story of life in the world of SEC volleyball, Emily plans to enroll in second-semester summer classes, beginning in July. She will have the opportunity to train with Ole Miss teammates and get an academic head start.
“They don’t redshirt (incoming freshmen). I don’t really know for sure, but coach says I have the opportunity to play. I just have to prove myself,” says Emily. “I’ll just work hard this summer and we’ll see what happens.”
A word of warning to Oxford residents, Emily Stroup’s coming to town. You’re running out of time to board up those windows. FMSV