June 21, 2001 11:00 pm
AHEAD OF THE PACK: Whether track, volleyball or basketball, Emili Woody was Imbler's leader this year. (Observer file photo/C.J. GISH).
AHEAD OF THE PACK: Whether track, volleyball or basketball, Emili Woody was Imbler's leader this year. (Observer file photo/C.J. GISH).

Volleyball wasnt her main sport. Track and field helped her stay in shape, but basketball was her passion.

This was how Emili Woody started her athletic career at Imbler High School. She left with a respect and dedication to each sport that helped her excel and garner The Observers Female Prep Athlete of the Year award.

I used to hate volleyball, Woody said. I started having fun my junior year.

In track, I ran just to stay in shape. I dont know if I would have stuck with track if (coach Jeff Larson) hadnt come along my sophomore year.

You ask any of her coaches, though, and if they could have a team full of Emilis, they would win state titles every year.

Shes very coachable and very positive. Those are two of the best things, Imbler girls basketball coach Dale Wagner said.

Wagner, who has coached the Panthers for 16 seasons, including seven trips to state and a state 2A title, rates Woody high on his list of all-time players.

Ive had five or six good players (over the years) and shes right there at the top, he said.

Woody earned second-team all-state honors as a senior, averaging 21.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.5 steals and 3.9 assists a game en route to leading the Panthers to a share of the Wapiti League title.

Woody is planning to attend Carroll College in Helena, Mont., where she has received a scholarship to play basketball.

She was named to the all-district tournament and first team all-league for the second straight year, and was coming off an all-state honorable mention as a junior.

But it was Woodys all-around excellence in every sport that made her a cut above most other athletes throughout the state.

In volleyball, she started out not being one of our strongest players, Imbler volleyball coach Jennifer Teeter said. She wasnt

as naturally inclined to it than basketball. But Im glad she stuck with it.

Woody didnt break into the Panthers starting varsity lineup until last year, and then only as a front-row player.

She stepped into the role of middle blocker/hitter, Teeter said.

But then Imblers senior-laden team graduated, leaving Woody as the only returning starter and having to expand her role.

She had to play all the way around, Teeter said. Not only in the front row. She had to develop skills defensively and offensively in serve receive and as a passer.

Woody was more than ready to take on the challenge, leading Imbler with 156 kills and 303 total blocks. Even though Imbler missed the district playoffs for the first time in five years, the 18-year-olds accomplishments were enough to earn her third-team all-state recognition.

Woody credits Larson for her staying with track and field.

Larson came to Imbler as the assistant coach during Woodys sophomore season and changed her view on how to run.

Its one of those sports where there cant be any excuses, she said. You cant blame the coach of the team if you dont do well.

It was the most fun year Ive had in track. Thats the hardest sport, but one of the most rewarding because I do it by myself.

Larson taught Woody the art of strategy in how to run a distance race.

The ability was always there, but the confidence was what she gained, Larson said.

The results were impressive. Woody, who won the 800- and 1,500-meter runs and was a member of the winning 1,600 relay at the district meet as a junior, improved by leaps and bounds this year.

This season, Larson, who knew the Imbler girls team had a strong chance at winning district and finishing high at state, bumped Woody from the 800 and into the 3,000.

The first time she ran it was in Umatilla (in April). She said she didnt want to run it again, Larson said. The funny thing was, she went on to win the whole thing.

In one of the most exciting races at the state meet, Woody ran a personal best and won the 3,000 in 10 minutes, 59.07 seconds. The top four finishers were within five seconds of each other.

She had a chance (at a state title) by running in the 800, but all along I thought the 3,000 was her race, Larson said.

Woody finished second in the 1,500, a second behind the winner, and was part of the state-winning 1,600 relay team.

I didnt think Id be running the 3,000. Its not very fun. The long relay is the most fun because so much can happen between those four legs, she said.

I was disappointed in the 1,500. I wanted to win that one. I think more about not winning the 1,500 than winning the 3,000.

But in the end, because of her dropping the 800 for running the 3,000, she helped Imbler take home the third-place trophy at state.

She sacrificed for the team, Larson said.

That has been a theme throughout her sports career.

The thing about Emili is she developed the sophomores (on our team) more than I did, Wagner said. She was the coach on the floor and encouraged them.

Teeter concurs.

She was an exceptional leader, especially this season since our team was so young. By the end of the season we had improved a lot and she was a huge factor.

The way she handles herself has also impressed her coaches.

Shes not only a good athlete, but a good person. Shes respected by the faculty, the students and players from other teams, Larson said. One of her gifts is she can get along with everybody. After her career in sports is over that will be much more important than any athletic ability.