Updated: Jun 25
Welcome to our new blog series, Inspiring Athletes, featuring professional athletes from all walks of life with unique backgrounds and experiences. We are so excited to introduce our first guest, Emily Hartong. Born and raised in Southern California, she was recruited to play indoor at the University of Hawaii where she dominated the indoor scene. After graduating, she went overseas to play indoor professionally for 3 years at some of the top level teams in Europe and Asia. Now, she has made the transition to the professional beach volleyball scene and making a HUGE splash on the tour. She is a powerful inspiration to us all and we are so excited to be able to share her unique story!
Please welcome Emily Hartong!
Tell us a little bit about your recruiting process.
I received my first letter/questionnaire at the end of my high school freshman year. I was 15 and had absolutely no idea which university I wanted to attend in three years. Throughout my sophomore year and early junior year, I began receiving an overwhelming number of letters and questionnaires. It was unclear to me how to navigate such an exciting and impactful time in my life. Reflecting back on it, I could’ve done a more diligent job responding to the schools who showed interest, but I was selective in which ones I communicated with. It was all happening so fast and I was very naïve about the recruitment process, so much so that I missed the window of opportunity with one of the top schools I wanted to attend. They had given out their scholarships for my class by the end of my sophomore year. I had not realized that so many girls my age had already been committing to the schools I was interested in and this started to make me nervous, despite the offers I had received. I did not want to miss another opportunity and regret not reaching out to the schools that I wanted to attend. By early my junior year, I became very communicative with letters and emails and I even began going outside my comfort zone and making the dreaded phone calls to college coaches.
When I was 10 I visited Hawaii for the first time. With my love for the tropics and ocean, I knew that someday I wanted to live in that state of paradise. As I grew older, along with my love for volleyball, I learned about the legendary women’s volleyball program at the University of Hawaii. I had my sights set on UH as soon as I realized my aspirations of becoming a collegiate athlete. I’ll never forget the moment when I received my first letter from UH. I think it was the same moment I decided that would be the school I would attend. I returned that questionnaire right away and began communicating via email with Mike Sealy, the assistant coach who was recruiting me. I wanted them to know how interested I was in playing for their program, so I finally mustered up the courage to call the head coach, Dave Shoji. I expressed my interest, and to my amazement, was told it was mutual. We continued communicating via email, mostly informing them on my tournament schedule and where they could watch my team play. The stars aligned in February of my junior year at the Vegas Classic. Our team had just won the tournament, the Hawaii coaches were there, and after the match I verbally committed (over the phone!) to becoming a Rainbow Wahine. This was before I had even gone on an unofficial visit to see the campus and facilities, but I knew in my heart that it was the right school for me.
What led you to becoming a professional beach volleyball athlete?
I played indoor volleyball since the age of 11 and after four years in college, I played three years of professional indoor volleyball in Europe and Asia. Growing up in Southern California, I was dialed into the beach volleyball scene and, like most, idolized the greats like Misty May and Kerri Walsh. I was so invested on the indoor scene that I didn’t play a whole lot of beach volleyball but always knew that someday, when I was done with indoor, I would make the transition to this exciting sport. I love the lifestyle and the dynamic of the sport. It’s much harder than indoor with only two players on the court, but I think it’s a lot easier to master the skills on the beach than on the indoor side.
What was the most challenging part about the recruiting process?
The most challenging part about the recruiting process was communicating. I sent some emails out and would respond to questionnaires and letters but I was hesitant to call the coaches, mostly because I was nervous and didn’t know what to say. Once I got over that fear, I realized it wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be and I felt so accomplished after each call, like I was doing the best thing to help my situation and was taking a step closer to getting recruited by my top schools.
How was it making the transition from indoor to beach?
The transition from indoor to beach definitely felt like an uphill battle for, at least, the first year. My touch on the ball was different, my timing felt way off; I was completely shifting my game from the indoor court to adjust to the beach. I’ve played on the AVP for two seasons now, showing improvements on paper as well as internally, but I still feel like a student of the game in so many ways. I think the cardio aspect or “sand legs” was, by far, the hardest adjustment. I was in peak physical shape after playing indoor at the top level for so many years, but the beach humbled me pretty quickly. For the first 3-6 months of training, there were many times I felt like I was going to have an asthma attack! Once I could control my breathing, and not feel like I was about to pass out, I could actually focus on the fundamentals. The best beach players are in the best shape; there’s so much that goes into this sport and when push comes to shove, you don’t want to be worried about your cardio, you want to be focused on the little variables that are going to help you win.
What motivates you as an athlete?
What motivates me as an athlete is winning and dominating the sport. I reached that feeling indoor and now beach has provided a whole new challenge. I love the sport and know that I’ve only scratched the surface of my potential. We invest so much time and energy, and sacrifice so much to make this our reality. Why not try to be the best? At this point in my life, I know what I want to achieve and what I need to do in order to achieve it. The resources are there, the motivation and fight are there, now it’s time to just work hard and prove to myself that I can get to where I want to be.
Best advice for someone going through the recruiting process?
My best advice for someone going through the recruiting process would be to ask questions if you don’t know, be resourceful, and bug the heck out of college coaches. There’s going to be a lot of the unknown for you. It’s a whole new territory you’re about to enter, so ask as many questions as you need to find out what you want to know. Ask your coaches, your club director, family friends, really anyone who might know a bit more about navigating this unfamiliar chapter in your life. If they have been through it, most likely they’ll give you the advice you need or point you to someone who does know what your next steps should be. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, then be resourceful. Do some research on universities you’re interested in and see what they offer. Every school has a website and so does every volleyball program, so if you want to learn more about what is being offered, chances are you can find it on the internet. Universities want athletes who are committed to their programs, and how do you show them your committed and interested? You bug them. If you send them emails and frequently ask them questions, there’s no doubt you won’t be on their radar. By doing that you’re showing them how interested and invested you are in their program and how badly you want to play for them.
A fun fact about me is that I’m quite the crafter. Before I got into volleyball, all I wanted to do was draw, paint, create, you name it. When I was in 4th grade, my best friend and I had a bracelet business where we would walk door to door and sell our creations. I was obsessed, I loved creating and designing beautiful things that would bring joy to peoples lives and money in my pocket! Our little jewelry biz came to an end as volleyball began to take the front seat in my life. Throughout high school, college and my time spent overseas, I continued to keep my creative juices flowing with drawing, painting, seashell mirrors, and other fun crafts to pass the time. It wasn’t until I was playing in South Korea, that making jewelry would come back into my life. I was in downtown Seoul and stumbled upon an underground gemstone market. Seeing all the stones lined up on the wall brought me back to that excited nine year old and I knew this would be my new muse. While playing over in Korea, I began making jewelry once again and, soon after moving back to California, I launched my shop on Etsy. Since then I’ve done a number of craft shows, holiday festivals and sell both on Etsy as well my own website, BeadingHartsCo.com. It’s great having something else to put my energy in and allows me to keep my creative side striving.
Favorite books and/or podcasts?
Some favorite books of mine would be Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and all of Malcom Gladwell’s books. I love Mitch Albom as well, one of my favorites of his would be The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto. It’s quite a fun book and as you may have notice, I enjoy reads from all walks of life: self-help, non fiction, fictions, etc. One sports book I love is The Best Tennis of Your Life by Jeff Greenwald. It’s a short read, with many chapters capturing everything that an athlete, especially volleyball players, might experience. My favorite reads are war books. The best historical fiction I’ve read would be All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, who actually won a Pulitzer Prize for this masterpiece.