Because she is tall, people assume Emily Boerger is a basketball player. No, she explains, she is a volleyball player.
And even that was almost by accident.
The 22-year-old Boerger, a 2009 graduate of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, was in eighth grade when a friend asked if she wanted to try volleyball at the Marysville Boys and Girls Club.
“She didn’t want to do it by herself,” Boerger said, “so she got me to go with her.”
The next year Boerger tried out for the high school team, “and then as I got better I just fell in love with the sport more and more,” she said. “Volleyball just clicked with me.”
Years later, Boerger has turned into a top player for the Western Washington University volleyball team, which was ranked eighth nationally in NCAA Division II and had a 14-1 season record before dropping a 3-2 decision to Alaska Anchorage on Saturday night. The match was a showdown for first place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
Disappointing though it was, the Vikings still have hopes of a postseason berth and perhaps making a run at an NCAA title, just as they did in 2007 when WWU placed second nationally.
Getting through the regional tournament and advancing to nationals “would mean a lot to me,” said Boerger, a senior. “It would be an incredible experience that not many people can say they participated in. But we’re trying not to focus on that as a team. It would be incredible and awesome, but what’s most important is winning the next game and the next match.
“But I think we have the potential (to reach nationals),” she said. “If we keep staying in the moment every game, and keep following the game plans and playing our steady game style, then I think we definitely have that potential.”
Her coach, Diane Flick, agrees.
“I feel really good about this team,” said Flick, who is in her 14th season as WWU’s head coach. “I feel good about where we are and how we’re progressing. … Do we have the potential? Yes. But I’ve also thought that about the teams we have every year because I think that’s just the direction this program is going.”
Western Washington’s 16-player roster — which includes redshirt freshman Bryce Larson from Mukilteo’s Kamiak High School — is comprised solely of in-state players, “and we take great pride in that,” Flick said. “There is plenty of great talent in the state of Washington to do good things in Division II and beyond, so we’re definitely beating the bushes around here to find great talent.”
The 6-foot-1 Boerger — “and she’s maybe closer to 6-2,” Flick said — is a middle blocker and the team’s only senior. Her job is to use her size and savvy at the net, both offensively and defensively.
“She’s very smart, she has really good vision, and she really understands the game, which is something that really impressed me from the moment we started recruiting her,” Flick said. “As a result, she’s able to hit a variety of shots at the right time.
“You can’t teach height, so that’s always nice to have. But she always seems to have a nose for the ball.”
Boerger was named the GNAC Defensive Player of the Week for Sept. 29-Oct. 5. Through games of Oct. 13, she ranked first nationally in Division II in hitting percentage (kills minus errors divided by attempts) at .434. Teammate Kayla Erickson, a junior from Gig Harbor, ranked second at .426.
Though Boerger had been a good high school player, she had never thought much about playing in college. But when Flick and Vikings assistant coach James Suh got in touch, “I decided to come to the school on a visit to check things out,” she said. “After I met the team and the coaches, saw the school and went to class with one of the girls on the team, it just seemed like a good fit. And I also realized I wasn’t done with volleyball yet. I still wanted to play.”
After redshirting her first season, she has since won three varsity letters, and along the way has also managed a 3.89 grade point average in biology/anthropology. She does not expect to play volleyball after college, but instead would like to join the Peace Corps before pursuing a graduate degree in community health or public health.
The plan of joining the Peace Corps “just feels like it’s the perfect thing for me,” Boerger said. “I feel like I’m really an independent person who wants to experience everything. I’ve had experiences in the past of doing volunteer work and I just like the idea of doing something larger than myself.”