Women’s volleyball libero Sam Harton is only halfway through her junior year, but she has reached a significant career milestone: Harton recorded her 1,000th dig for the Lions against Springfield College on Sept. 24. She is only the fourth Emerson volleyball player to accomplish this feat, joining alumni Jared Gross ‘16, Jamie Morgan ‘14, and current women’s volleyball assistant coach Sara Rutan ‘11.
Harton has recorded 2.87 digs per set in 16 matches played this season. Her contributions are making a noticeable impact on the team’s defensive play; the Lions are averaging 14.93 per set this season—Harton’s digs account for nearly 20 percent of that total.
Defensive prowess is nothing new for Harton. She entered this season with 906 career digs and an average of 4.57 per set over her first two seasons with the team. Harton’s ability to rack up digs, which helps her teammates transition to the attack, has helped the Lions to a 13-7 record so far this fall.
Harton underwent hip surgery in March of this year and is in the eighth month of her recovery. She said reaching 1,000 digs was important for her mental confidence while returning from the injury.
“I knew that the 1,000th dig was going to be this season,” Harton, a writing, literature, and publishing major, said. “I wasn’t sure how much I was going to be able to play this year. I missed the first two games and had to come back kind of gradually, so to get that 1,000th dig had this feeling of being myself again on the court.”
Harton said she kept track of her progress toward 1,000, but lost count for a few games. She did not realize she surpassed it until days later.
“I didn’t think I was close enough to get it during the Springfield match,” Harton said. “When I checked before the Smith match, which was the next Tuesday, it said I had 1,011 digs. I was like, ‘crap, I missed it.’”
Though Harton’s was an individual accomplishment, she said her teammates took time out of a practice to celebrate with her.
“The next day my whole team surprised me with a sign, a ball they all signed, some candy, and a balloon,” Harton said.
Senior middle blocker and team captain Jules Augustine, a visual and media arts major, said it was a nod to her teammate’s feat.
“It was just a little something to say ‘that’s awesome, congratulations,’” Augustine said. “For her to do it in three years is very special and I think it’s amazing that she can accomplish such a thing. Her freshman year she was starting libero, and I think that’s what did it for her, that she was able to start so fast. In three years, that’s kind of rare.”
Harton saw immediate success her freshman year for the Lions, racking up 498 total digs in the 2014 season and averaging 4.74 per set in 29 games played. In 2015, she played in 25 games, logging 408 digs and 4.39 per set. Her first two seasons are what enabled her to reach one thousand with plenty of time left in her career.
“It’s a big confidence boost to have someone that has the experience and the skill to achieve something like this,” Augustine said. “Coaches that research it say ‘okay, she’s a good defensive player, we have to say away from her’. It’s nice having someone who has the experience and the knowledge to be there defensively.”
Team head coach Ben Read agreed with Augustine that Harton’s achievement coming so quickly is as impressive as the milestone itself.
“For our program, it is a huge accomplishment and something that is not very common,” Read said. “For her to go and do that, mainly because of her freshman and sophomore years, and picking it up this season is awesome.”
Read said Harton is an important part of the team’s defensive game plan.
“We can design our block to cover a certain area and make up for people that are weaker defensively,” Read said. “We try to funnel attacks to her.”
With plenty of time left in her Emerson career, Harton says she is already looking to the Emerson’s record book for digs.
“I’m looking to beat the [school] record,” Harton said. “That’s my next goal.”
Emerson volleyball’s all time digs leader is Sara Rutan, who played for the Lions from 2007 to 2011 and is an assistant coach on the women’s team. Her record stands at 1,714. Harton, now at 1,035 career digs, is 679 away from tying her coach’s record.