South setter Emma Kleven is headed to Notre Dame de Namur University / Photo credit Kleven family
A week after the South volleyball team lost the Class 4A state championship final in November, Emma Kleven was on a plane to Portland, Oregon.
Not for vacation but rather vocational training, if you will.
The all-state setter got out of town for long weekends to play club volleyball for the Waves in Portland, where she competed in tournaments and played in front of college coaches.
“My mom works for Alaska Airlines, so we have flight benefits, and it’s just easier for me to get back and forth,” Kleven told me. “I would usually miss a Friday or Monday.”
She played for the Waves after her junior and senior seasons, which gave her firsthand experience in facing elite players from the Pacific Northwest.
The success she enjoyed on the court only made her that much more confident.
“Going out of state was what put me over the edge,” she said. “Going to those tournaments, where the play is so much faster, it really makes you step up your game to reach that level.”
Kleven used the opportunity as a stepping stone to help her get to the next level.
The senior playmaker is headed to Notre Dame de Namur University, a NCAA D2 school in Belmont, California.
“Playing out of state for club this year and last year was a huge opportunity and it got me way more exposure,” Kleven said. “My coach from that club connected me with the coach from Notre Dame and the coach came and watched me.”
Like with the South Wolverines, she played all the way around the court with her club team and that allowed her to show off her offensive talent at the net and defensive skills in the back.
As a setter, Kleven is known for her accuracy. No matter how poor the pass, she her sets are right on the money.
She can also be tricky, deking opponents by dumping the ball over the net when they are least expecting it.
“My game has exponentially gotten better in the last year,” she said. “It’s been insane how much I’ve learned in terms of my volleyball IQ.”
Kleven played a pivotal role in helping the South Wolverines reach the Alaska Class 4A state title match and racked up 55 assists in a loss to the Dimond Lynx.
“I love playing at South. I love the group of girls. They are all my best friends,” Kleven said. “Playing on that team was a great experience for me. Even though we didn’t come out this year with the win for state, I still wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Our new coach Amy Mestas really made it a great experience.”
Kleven also played for the prestigious Midnight Sun Volleyball Club in Anchorage and thanked longtime coach Virgil Hooe for his influence on her career.
“He’s such a great coach and he helped me get to where I am,” she said.
She learned volleyball is a game about placement, not necessarily power. As a setter her job is to get the ball to people to take advantage of holes in the defense.
“Knowing where the other players aren’t,” Kleven said.
On offense, it’s the exact opposite because she needs to know where her teammates are on the court at all times. If not, she isn’t bashful about directing them.
“I definitely like to take control out there and tell everybody where to go,” she said.
At times, she admitted she might have been bossy. But she was trying to be a leader.
“I had to work on some stuff with my leadership,” Kleven said. “At the beginning of the season I wanted us to be at our peak. I had to step back for a moment and learn to be more encouraging.
“By the end of the season I thought I matured with my leadership skills. As a setter, you need to know how to talk to each player and get to know them personally.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.