PHILIPPI, W.Va – In the state of West Virginia, the stakes don’t get higher for an athlete than a state championship game.

The Philip Barbour volleyball team has made it there three years in a row and has finished the season with a win there in each of the last two seasons.

Emily Denison remains one of the most important pieces of that run and as Shady Spring began to make a comeback in last week’s final, she went to work.

When it came to staying in control with the bright lights in here face, it was as simple as remembering that it’s all just a game.

“Playing this game was something that was very, very easy and why try and make it hard? It’s not something that is hard for me to do, or the team so why try and make it hard whenever it comes to them getting up on a point or us getting up? Just continue to do the basic fundamentals,” she said.

While her 23 kills and 6 blocks that show up on the stat sheet may be the most tangible evidence of her impact, Denison is just as important as a leader as she’s helped foster a mindset that the Colts are more than just players wearing the same jersey.

“Whenever you feel like you’re going to crumble, find the person that’s going to bring you up,” she said, “Find the person that can bring you up out of some of the darkest places so the one thing we try to tell ourselves most is depend on each other because we’re the only people that are going to help bring us up and that’s what we did.”

Adding to that vocal leadership is an unmatched level of energy that brought the Philip Barbour crowd to its feet time and again but deep down, comes from a very simple place.

“Honestly, it’s just the heart. I love this game so much and it’s just something that I’ve been looking forward to for so long so it’s hard not to express how much energy,” she said.

Now that her final season of high school volleyball has come to an end on a high note, Denison is ready to take a step back and let it all sink in, even if it may be hard for a little while.

“I know when everything settles down and I get to be with myself and reflect on everything that happened, it’s going to be rough. I’m going to miss these girls. They truly are my family and I depend on them as much as they depend on me and it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be hard to leave them,” she said.

Emily Denison is not quite done with the game of volleyball she loves so much. She’s headed to West Virginia Wesleyan to continue her career at the next level in the fall.