Not far into the set, Shelton had countered two attacks and reached a milestone: 2,000 career digs. Head coach Jason Kepner called a timeout and the team gathered around Shelton in exultation. A realization of the milestone reached the CofC parents in the stands who rose to their feet.
With 2,039 digs heading into Saturday's Senior Day match against UNCG, Shelton ranks second all-time in College of Charleston history behind Marie Dobrenz. She also ranks second among all active SoCon players in career digs, trailing only Chattanooga's Paula Passmore.
"When I came in as a freshman, I made a list of goals and, to be honest, 2,000 digs was not on it," Shelton said. "But by the time I got to my redshirt junior year, my Mom pointed out that I could get to 2,000. It became a pretty big goal this year and I've kept up with it after each match."
However, despite the statistical milestone, Shelton's bigger goal is to win the SoCon Championship in a week. That team goal has only happened once in Shelton's five years with the Cougars, despite tournament championship match appearances every season.
"Obviously, winning the tournament trumps any personal goal I could set," Shelton said. "As a senior, I've tried to incorporate the values and culture of winning that were passed down to me by the classes before us. There is a legacy and an expectation of success with our program, and this year is no different."
If Georgia Southern loses a match this weekend and the Cougars defeat UNCG on Senior Day, CofC will secure its 12th straight SoCon regular season or tournament championship. Entering this season, CofC ranked 15th in the nation in winning percentage over the last decade.
Shelton, and her 2,000 digs, have been a big part of that success.
"Emily Shelton has done a great job for us over her five years here," Kepner said. "She overcame a foot injury and has been a steadying influence in our back row, consistently averaging a high number of digs and passing at a high level. I've always known what to expect from her on a day-to-day basis from her first season to now. I'm proud of her continuing to be consistent and getting better every day until her last match is played."
Despite her career accomplishments, Shelton has literally been in the back row for much of the Cougars' success. Playing libero and defensive specialist doesn't lend itself to many stats other than digs and often times the kill leaders, blockers and setters get most of the fame.
"You can ask most people who follow volleyball and they wouldn't know the libero or defensive specialist for a top program," Shelton said. "But it's an important and critical position nonetheless. I've been very fortunate here to play with some amazing players like Cole Dawley, Ginny Phillips, Elyse Chubb and Sarah Havel. And now Darcy Dorton and Sloane White will sort of join that list. It's harder to be the vocal and physical leader from the back row, but I take what I've learned from all of those great performers and try to apply it. I just try to stabilize everyone and keep us focused."
Once Shelton's career as a College of Charleston volleyball player is over, she needs only to walk out her door to find her next passion. A communications major, Shelton is interested in hospitality management, specifically hotels and bed and breakfast inns.
"I like the personal intimacy that bed and breakfasts have and especially in Charleston they're so beautiful in their approach," Shelton said. "They are all so different. I really like that feel a lot more than with the chain hotels."
However, Shelton still has a few more digs to make before she starts looking at hotels. And that starts this weekend against UNCG on Senior Day.