Payne racks up 1,000 career digs, closes in on school record

OCC sophomore libero Emily Payne (#1) serves the ball in the playoff win against Cypress College on November 22. 


Orange Coast College sophomore libero Emily Payne became the second women’s volleyball player in school history to reach 1,000 career digs. She currently has 1,050 digs and has a chance to put her name in the history books and break the all time record of career digs.

The current record holder is libero Rylee Adair with 1,064 career digs in 2018. Payne just needs 14 more digs in the quarterfinals of the CCCAA State Championship Tournament against American River College to tie and 15 to be the new record-holder. 

“If we play three sets, I should be able to beat the record, which is really exciting,” Payne said. “I didn't think I was going to be able to accomplish that this year because we got these extra games and usually that's not how it is. It's conference, then one playoff match, but now that we've gotten these extra games – it's totally doable to be able to beat this record.”

Payne had 549 digs in 2021 and she has 501 digs going into Friday’s matchup. Payne challenged herself to reach 500 digs again this season.

“As the season was going, I was always calculating to see like, ‘Am I on track? Am I going to beat it?’” Payne said. “So it was really exciting and it's something that pushes me as a player to not only be better for myself, but for my teammates around me.”

Freshman middle blocker Natalia Brandlin believes that Payne will break the record on Friday.

“Emily is a really good libero and we’re happy that she's on our team,” Brandlin said. “She's actually committed and she's our best passer. So I think she can do it easily. I'm looking forward to her accomplishing that.”

OCC head coach Chuck Cutenese is confident that Payne will get the job done.

“I think she'll break in at our first match,” Cutenese said. “She's very close to breaking it and I think she'll break it when we get to stay.”

This is Payne’s first time playing in the women’s volleyball state championship tournament. Coast failed to qualify in 2021 after getting swept last season by Bakersfield College in the regionals.

It was the day after former assistant coach Adrian Delgado passed away on Nov. 26, 2021. Payne said that because of the tragedy, it was hard for the team to play.

“I just remember crying on the court during the national anthem because it just felt so weird that he wasn't there,” Payne said. 

Payne said that she and Delgado had a really close relationship before he passed. 

“He focused more on the liberos and he did our stats and everything so I was always really close with him,” Payne said. “I talked to him after the game and he told me what I needed to work on or what he thought about the upcoming team like how I needed to play my defense. He was really cool. I loved him so much.”

After losing in the second round of the regionals in 2021, Payne wanted to forget about the game and focus on getting better. She joined the beach volleyball team in Spring 2022. When that season ended, Payne focused on her passing, keeping her shoulders forward and lifting weights as well.

“I needed to get stronger and faster to push off on the court,” Payne said. 

Cutenese is grateful to have Payne on the team as a co-captain and a leader.

“She has great work ethic and works extremely hard and she leads by example through going 110%,” Cutenese said. “She may not be the one that gets up there and hits the ball, and those are the ones that everybody seems to notice, but as a coach, it's so valuable to have a player that talks and directs traffic.”

Over these last two years, Payne has enjoyed her time at Orange Coast College. 

“It's an amazing program,” Payne said. “I love each and every one of my teammates. There's never a day where I'm not having fun smiling in the gym. It honestly feels like home to me.”

However, Payne did not think of coming to OCC at first. She is originally from Rancho Cucamonga, an hour away from OCC. Payne visited other schools, until COVID-19 happened, which made an impact on her decision to come to Coast.

“I just was looking into what community colleges were the best because financially that would be the best option for us,” Payne said. “I didn't know what the season would look like if we were going to play.”

Cutenese did not have Payne in his recruiting district. Because of this, the sophomore libero contacted the head coach to see if she can join OCC’s women’s volleyball squad.

Payne sent Cutenese footage of her game. The coaching staff liked what they were seeing so the libero received an invitation to OCC to give her the opportunity to show the team what she is capable of.

“She came and we just really liked her skills and from the moment she's been with us,” Cutenese said. “She's just been very solid as a libero.”

The sophomore libero played her last game at the Peterson Gym after defeating Santa Barbara City College in a five-set nail-biter on Saturday night.

“I'm really sad that I'm transferring in January to Cal Poly Pomona,” Payne said. “It just feels like a piece of me is going to be missing, but I'll always be there for all my teammates – come to their beach games, support them and I couldn't have asked for a better coaching staff, announcer – just everything here has just felt like it's been a four-year school and it's going to be hard for me to leave here.” 

Many players, including Brandlin, say that her leadership and energy is something that will be missed when the season ends.

“She'll be with us in spirit and she'll come to a lot of our games, but I'm really happy for her and I'm glad that she's taking the opportunity to go off and play some more volleyball,” Brandlin said.

Cutenese said that Payne’s game will be missed when she transfers to Cal Poly Pomona.

“As a coach, it's the little things that go on that really make the difference: the serve receive and the defense,” Cutenese said. “We're going to miss that out of her.”

Payne is looking forward to her first matchup in the state championship tournament against the Beavers on Friday at 4 p.m. 

“I think if we come in there with a good mindset and think that we're playing a really tough team, we'll be able to be strong and not just think we're going to roll over on some easy team because every team there that made it to stay is there for a reason,” Payne said. “We're all good at this point, so anything could happen and I just have a good feeling about this.”

The live stream for Friday’s game will be on BAOSN

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