QUINCY -- It arguably is the least favorable draw the Quincy University women's volleyball team could have had, but the opponent matters little in comparison to the experience.
That's why Emily Lindemulder tears up thinking about playing in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament.
"All of this hard work is actually paying off finally," said Lindemulder, a senior middle blocker. "It's better that it's ending on a good note. No matter if we win or lose, we made it to the tournament for the first time in the four years I've been here.
The Hawks (16-14) are the fourth seed out of the GLVC West Division and will face Lewis, the top-seeded team in the East and ranked 15th nationally, at 2:30 p.m. Friday in the GLVC quarterfinals at the Eastside Centre in East Peoria, Ill. It is QU's first tournament appearance since 2011.
"Honestly, it's amazing," Lindemulder said. "We've grown so much in the four years I've been here. So incredibly much. It's been great to see that, knowing where we came from and now where we want to be."
That's going to make Friday's match so memorable.
"Some nerves and goosebumps, that's for sure," Lindemulder said. "But I know we will be able to play our best."
When she's at her best, Lindemulder matches up with the top talent in the GLVC.
The 6-footer from Homer Glen ranks fourth in the league in both hitting percentage at .347 and blocks per set at 1.05. She is second on the team in kills with 299 and leads the Hawks with 25 solo blocks and 94 block assists.
"She's been great for us," QU coach Bob Crank said. "And she's been a great leader."
That meant setting the tone during offseason workouts, the one thing Lindemulder points to as a key difference in the 9-21 record her freshman year and this year, the first winning season since 2011.
"A lot of hard work," Lindemulder said. "I think a lot about our spring seasons. My freshman year, it wasn't so tough, just kind of playing here and there. Then sophomore and junior years, it was tough. Those 6 a.m. workouts, rolling out of bed, it prepared us for the season. Last spring was really one of the toughest we had, and it's shown this year."
It's allowed the Hawks to make significant breakthroughs.
Quincy enjoyed a pair of five-match winning streaks this season, the longest since opening the 2012 season 5-0. The Hawks were in second place in the GLVC West Division as late as Nov. 5, which kept them in the tournament hunt.
"Our confidence has continually gotten better and better," Lindemulder said. "That's what has carried us."
She believes that is only going to grow.
"It's the family feel," Lindemulder said. "I can go to any one of these girls and know they will have my back no matter what in any sort of situation in my life."
That's why she won't stray far from the program once she graduates. She will earn a degree in education in May and plans to teach and coach volleyball, although she doesn't know where she will land .
"Volleyball has been my life since I started playing when I was 11 years old," Lindemulder said. "So it's kind of exciting and scary. Who knows what's to come?"
What she does know is better days lie ahead for the QU program.
"I've already thought of coming back to watch them play because I know the underclassmen have so much potential," Lindemulder said. "They know how to work hard. I'm excited to watch them for years to come."