Peyton Ehmke loves volleyball.
So much so, the middle blocker for George Mason University’s women’s team is not only returning for a fifth season, she has decided that once her playing career is over, she wants to coach.
“I’ve dedicated so much of my life to the sport already, I want to use what I’ve learned over the years to help other people grow as athletes,” Ehmke said.
Ehmke, who like all NCAA athletes received a fifth year of eligibility to compensate for lost seasons due to COVID-19, is the kind of leader any coach would want.
At 6-foot-1, the San Clemente, California, native has never missed a match at Mason and last season was second in kills, with 227, and blocks, with 61. More importantly, though, she has made it a priority to ensure team harmony and chemistry.
“I’m very close with everyone,” Ehmke said. “If they have any questions, I want my teammates to feel comfortable coming to me as another resource. I want to set an example for current and future athletes.”
“It’s been incredibly valuable for our otherwise fairly young team, having her here to show them the way,” said Megan Shifflett Bachmann, Mason’s new head coach. “Even more so, she greeted me with open arms and has embraced a lot of the change and gotten everyone on board in terms of really wanting to get on the same page and pursue all the same goals.”
Ehmke, who is pursuing a master’s degree in sport management after graduating in May with a bachelor’s in the subject and a minor in leadership, has made the most of her Mason experience, and not just on the court.
In the summer of 2021, she interned in the marketing department of the Bowie Baysox, a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. And her internships with Mason Athletics included writing for the department website and learning the ins and outs of social media marketing.
She also contributed to the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, which is a conduit to the NCAA for student-athlete concerns.
“I’ve learned so much over the years,” Ehmke said. “I would definitely be comfortable with any career in athletics. Mason has prepared me very well for my future, and I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the university, its professors, advisors, coaches, trainers, and my teammates for the rewarding and fulfilling academic and athletic foundation they provided me. I am forever indebted to them.”
But it is athletics that have dominated her life. Her mom, Claudine, was a high school volleyball star, and her father, Richard, kicked for the Eastern Illinois University football team, for several arena football teams, and during a preseason for the Chicago Bears.
Through them, Ehmke said, she enhanced her “volleyball IQ” and understanding of what it means to compete.
“You learn from defeat and failure and how that can fuel you into something constructive,” she said. “If you lose, that’s in the past. There’s nothing you can do to change that outcome, so all you can do is change the outcome for the future.”
It’s a message she will impart to her Patriot teammates, who are 1-2 after last weekend’s start to the season.
The team has struggled the past few years. In fact, Ehmke is the only current Mason player who has played in the Atlantic 10 tournament. That was in 2018 when the Patriots finished fourth in the conference at 8-6, and Ehmke, then a freshman, was named to the A-10’s all-rookie team.
“I’ve been a leader for a couple of seasons. But this year, especially, it feels heightened,” Ehmke said. “I want to set an example for them so once I leave, I can still watch them play with that fire and intention.”