BOZEMAN – Two of the best volleyball players in the Treasure State are staying right in Montana to continue their college careers. Once the closest of teammates, they are now forced to become rivals.
Bozeman’s Mara Lynch and Ayla Embry signed their national letters of intent Wednesday morning to play in the Frontier Conference.
Lynch, who plays outside hitter, inked with the Carroll Collee Fighting Saints (19-15, 6-6 Frontier) a week ago, but wanted the opportunity to sign with her teammate. Lynch always knew Helena was always calling.
“There were a couple schools that I considered, but all along it was kind of an underlying feeling that I knew I wanted to go to Carroll. It’s a great school, it’s close to home, they have a great (nursing) program. I’ve been on a lot of visits there and I just enjoyed it every time,” said Lynch.
Lynch also held interest from Montana State and Rocky Mountain College before committing to Carroll.
The 5-foot-9 senior, who was named the Eastern AA player of the year, was dominant on the outside for the Hawks, as the powerful spiker helped lead Bozeman to a berth in the Class AA state championship game, where the Hawks fell to Helena Capital. The leadership and experience Lynch gained has made her ready to jump to the next level.
“Everything I’ve done up to this point has been preparing me, because I always knew I wanted to play college volleyball, and every single practice has been preparing me to play college volleyball. Now I’m here and it’s super rewarding and super exciting,” she said.
Meanwhile, Embry is off to Billings to join Rocky Mountain College, where strong academics and recent success of the Battlin’ Bears drew her in.
“The team is absolutely phenomenal. They’re so good,” Embry said. “They went to nationals this year and ended up getting ninth (place), and also they just have an unbelievable academic program that I wanted to go to school for.”
Embry chose Rocky over a walk-on opportunity at the University of Montana, as well as offers from other Frontier programs.
In her senior season, Embry became one of the best liberos in Montana and joins a team in Rocky, which finished 30-6 overall and 12-0 in the Frontier, that was ranked eighth in the country and won the Frontier Conference regular-season title. To join such a successful team validates all the hours Embry has put in on the court.
“It’s pretty exciting to be able to go to one of the top NAIA schools in the nation,” said Embry. “It’s just rewarding to be able to know that you can play there and hopefully really impact the program.”
Lynch and Embry have been playing on the same volleyball team since they were in middle school, and the sport has helped them grow into best friends off the court. But now they will be on opposite sides of the net for the first time as rivals.
“It’s going to be really fun, just going to be able to be like, ‘Oh, she’s so good and we really need to stop her, because she’s awesome.’ And it’s exciting. I love to play against people that I know, it makes the competition way more fun,” Embry smiled.
“Just like (Ayla) said, playing against people you know makes the competition so much better,” said Lynch. “And getting to see her every time we play her after not seeing her for a while being at college is going to be super nice and super fun.”