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'A very steady presence': Transfer Emani' Foster impacts UNC volleyball offense, culture

UNC graduate outside hitter Emani' Foster (8) celebrates a point with her teammates in the Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023 game against Wake Forest University in Carmichael Arena.

Emani’ Foster remembers the stacks of UNC cups her family had in the cupboard from attending North Carolina athletic events growing up.

She remembers being the little kid waiting for volleyball players to sign her poster after home games. 

But now, the graduate outside hitter is the one signing the autographs at Carmichael Arena.

When the Henderson, N.C. native graduated from UNC Charlotte in May in just three years, her mom encouraged her to move closer to home and play volleyball at UNC. And when she visited Chapel Hill, she said it felt like a great fit. 

“My mom went to Chapel Hill, and she just really wanted me to go,” Foster said. “She wanted me to be close to home and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll check it out.’ And then when I went on my visit, it was just really nice.”

Foster has fit in seamlessly since joining the Tar Heels, starting in all but two games in her 21 appearances so far this season and emerging as a calming and consistent presence for North Carolina.

“I feel like she’s finally starting to get her groove and really connect with everyone and just be very confident in herself,” junior outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster said. “She deserves to be here and she’s good enough to be here.”

‘Her voice is very respected’

On the court, Foster is composed — never seeming to be fazed after a missed shot or lost point. 

“She’s just a very steady presence, I would say,” Shaffmaster said. “I never really see her go up and down emotionally, and like even though sometimes like we all make mistakes, like she’ll make a mistake or two in a row, she always bounces back.”

For head coach Mike Schall, Foster helps to lighten the mood and take some pressure off when he might be taking things too seriously. 

“She has a quiet personality, but I think her voice is very respected,” Schall said. “You have to be pretty close to hear her, but what she has to say is usually very insightful or, or it’s really funny.”

What was initially a shy and reserved personality around the team has turned into one that leads others and makes sure everyone knows their role. Foster is a vocal leader at practice and in the huddle during timeouts — making strides in that respect throughout the season, something Schall has noticed.

But to hear Foster tell it, she tries to lead by example.

“I’m not really the most vocal leader on the court," Foster said. “But I feel like just by my demeanor on the court, I usually keep a pretty level head and just try and keep the team focused and relaxed during games.”

‘Welcoming and magnetic’

While Foster is locked in on the court, she has a vibrant personality off of it. Shaffmaster noted her ability to cook and that Foster frequently sends pictures of the food she makes to her teammates.

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And despite her perceived shyness, Shaffmaster said Foster will "talk your ear off nonstop" and enjoys being around everyone on the team.

Teammates gravitate towards Foster, whether during practice or when they have downtime. Younger players, particularly first-year outside hitter Sydney Nolan and sophomore middle blocker Sadie Swiftspend a lot of time around Foster, learning from her experience and wisdom from three years of college volleyball. 

“She wants everyone to be friends and she wants to hang out all the time with people,” Shaffmaster said. “It’s just like, it’s a very welcoming and magnetic thing to be around her and like want to talk to her. 

‘One of the best offensive players in the conference’

Foster helps add another dimension and attacking threat to the Tar Heels. She has, in Schall's words, a "violent kill," helping guide North Carolina on the court.

“She’s one of the best offensive players in the conference right now,” Schall said. “And I don’t hesitate saying that. The range of shots that she can hit is pretty special, and for her to be able to attack from the front row and back row is like, there aren’t a ton of outside hitters doing that.

So far this season, Foster has tallied double digit kills in 12 matches, recording a season-high 19 in games against Pacific, Santa Clara and Wake Forest. 

For Foster, her goals extend beyond the court as she pursues a master's degree in biomedical and health informatics. As the Tar Heels wrap up conference play in the coming weeks, it's safe to say Foster will continue to be one of the team's cornerstones.

“I just wanna make this my best athletic and academic year,” Foster said. “I want to try and achieve things that I haven’t achieved before and play at a higher level.”


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