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College volleyball: Late decision was a wise one for Whitworth’s Emiko Kahler

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 13, 2019

Whitworth outside hitter Emiko Kahler, right, was named the Northwest Conference Player of the Year. (Whitworth Athletics / Courtesy)
Whitworth outside hitter Emiko Kahler, right, was named the Northwest Conference Player of the Year. (Whitworth Athletics / Courtesy)

In terms of recruiting timelines, Emiko Kahler was late, really late, to sign her name on the dotted line to play volleyball for Whitworth.

It finally happened just two days before the end of her senior year at Clackamas (Oregon) High School, long after the conclusion of her final season of prep volleyball.

“I just wanted to make sure I was picking the right place, so I was kind of stressed,” Kahler said. “When I did visit at the end of May, it felt right. I met Kati (Bodecker, head coach) and she was awesome and made me feel at home.”

Seems like it worked out fine, considering Kahler has become one of the most decorated players in program history. She has led the Pirates back to the Division III National Tournament for the first time since her freshman year.

Along the way, Kahler collected four All-Northwest Conference honors – three first-team selections and an honorable mention, the first Pirate to do so since Kaimi Rocha (2008-11). Kahler was NWC Freshman of the Year in 2016 and bookended that with this season’s NWC Player of the Year award. Kahler surpassed Rocha recently as Whitworth’s all-time kills leader.

None of those stats or awards is what Bodecker thinks about when describing her senior outside hitter. The coach credits Kahler for bouncing back from nagging ankle and back injuries last season and guiding the Pirates after an unexpected loss to Whitman cost the team the 2018 NWC title.

“I’m most proud of her for that commitment and sacrifice,” Bodecker said. “She led that group in the offseason to work as hard as they could to make the most of their senior year. This season being in great shape and dealing with that pressure of being the best player, opponents targeted her and night in and night out she was still able to dominate.”

Whitworth (20-6, 14-2 NWC) captured the championship by four games over Pacific Lutheran, George Fox, Puget Sound and Pacific.

“We put in a lot of work in the spring and summer and made sure to instill that mindset into the freshmen and underclassmen as well,” Kahler said. “I don’t think we’ve had a poor practice. Everyone is always ready to get better, and that sets us apart from other teams.”

Whitworth’s title run included a pair of wins over Pacific, where Kahler’s sister, Brittany, is a sophomore outside hitter.

“I definitely do hold bragging rights, but we try not to talk about that stuff,” Kahler said. “After the game, we give each other a hug.”

The 5-foot-9 Kahler relies on savvy arm swings because she can’t always elevate and hit over blockers. She said it helps “being left-handed because it throws people off a little bit, even though it’s unconventional to be a left-handed outside.”

“She’s a smart player, strong physically,” Bodecker added. “She has to take advantage of swinging fast and she gets a lot of kills off the hands of blockers. She has great vision and I always go back to her toughness and mind set.”

The Pirates, including Kahler and senior classmates Iris Tikhonov, Danielle Tang, Elise Anderson and Madison Douglas, get a second shot at No. 8 Colorado College (30-4) after losing in three games in a September match in Colorado Springs.

“The first time we went to nationals (in 2016) it was an experience that I’ve never had before, totally unique,” said Kahler, who was high school teammates with Tikhonov, a second-team All-NWC selection. “We played (Colorado College) earlier in the season when we were kind of figuring things out. I’m interested to see how much they’ve improved and how much we’ve improved.”

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