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Hengstler-Ranweiler: Emma Peterson

Benson's Emma Peterson is the 2013 Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winner.

Last fall, the Benson volleyball team was in the middle of its final regular-season match. If ever there were a match that meant nothing, in terms of a conference race or jockeying for section seeding, this was it.

Neither Benson nor Montevideo had a chance to catch any of the four teams above them in the West Central Conference standings, and the Section 3AA-North seeds were pretty much set.

Emma Peterson, the Braves’ senior outside hitter, was sick to her stomach. Literally. Twice she checked out of the lineup and, clutching her stomach, made a beeline for the locker room. With Benson’s sub-section opener just four days away and nothing at stake on this late-October night, no one would have griped had the peaked Peterson shut it down for the night.

Instead, Peterson gingerly jogged back to the court twice and played out the string on the Braves’ five-game loss to the Thunder Hawks.

“She left the court with puke in her hands one time,” said Benson head volleyball coach Shannon Schmidt. “And a few minutes later, she came back in. She played hurt, she played sick. She was always there. That’s the kind of player she is.”

Peterson, who is headed for Concordia-Moorhead, leaves as one of the top athletes in Benson’s school history.

She became the school’s all-time basketball scoring leader this winter, and this weekend completed a track career highlighted by a third-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles at the Class A State Track and Field Championships at Hamline University in St. Paul. She won 12 state meet medals in her prep career, beginning with a gold medal as a seventh-grader on the Braves’ 2008 state champion 4X800 relay team.

Fittingly, in her final high school performance on Saturday, Peterson threw herself across the finish line — and onto the Hamline track — in an attempt to propel the Braves’ from fifth place to fourth as anchor of the Braves’ 4X400 relay team.

“She doesn’t do it to please people,” Schmidt said. “She doesn’t care what people think, she just wants to give 110 percent all the time she’s out there.”

“I don’t want to let the team down or in a bad situation,” Peterson said. “I didn’t feel great but I knew I could still play. Plus, I can’t stand sitting on the sidelines and watching. Either I’m dead or I will be playing: Come on, put me in coach.”

Many in Peterson’s family are avid golfers, including her brother, Sam, a Hengstler-Ranweiler nominee in 2012. But the game never appealed to Emma.

Her dad would take her out on the golf course and after a few holes, she’d be bored and want to go home. So they figured out how to get in some golf while also priming Emma for future athletic exploits.

“I was always an active kid and when the family would go out golfing I’d get impatient,” she said. “I didn’t like to golf so they would play and I would race the cart.”

Peterson will focus on basketball at Concordia, and for good reason. The kid who has a photo of herself holding a basketball at age one now holds Benson’s career scoring mark with 1,589 points and she averaged 20.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 3.8 steals during her senior season. She also hit 172 career 3-point shots.

“She’s a consistent and diverse player,” said Braves head basketball coach Chelsea Stiel, who was the Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winner in 1997. “She could play all positions and she always wanted the ball in her hands at the end of games.”

Peterson twice won games with buzzer-beater shots last winter, and she scored 40 points in a game.

“She’s one of the best basketball players in the area,” Stiel said.

Peterson started playing volleyball at a young age, in the backyard with her mom, a former prep player. Peterson grew into the kind of player a coach couldn’t take off the court. She was a skilled hitter but also one of the team’s best serve receivers, passers and servers.

She finished her prep career with 663 kills, 145 ace serves and 1,020 digs.

“Our offense and defense largely revolved around Emma,” Schmidt said. “She’s one of the most talented athletes I have ever had the privilege of coaching.”

Benson track and field coach Lisa Manska has had a long glance at Peterson’s prep career arc. It bears out the essence of six years of excellence.

“As an athlete and a student,” said Benson track coach Lisa Manska, “Emma has one goal: to improve every time she competes. She makes no excuses and only asks what she can do to improve herself. She is truly one of a kind.”

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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