When opponents of Western Washington University met the Vikings in volleyball, they also knew they were being invited to a block party hosted by Kayleigh Harper.
Harper, a 2014 Oak Harbor High School graduate, set a WWU and Great Northwest Athletic Conference record in career blocks this season. The 6’3” senior middle recorded 597 blocks in her four years at Western, smashing the previous record of 559 set by Northwest Nazarene’s Madi Farrell in 2017.
Harper, however, is far more than the most prolific blocker in school and conference history. She is one of the league’s most decorated players ever and, arguably, the most decorated college athlete from Oak Harbor.
Click on her bio at the Western Washington athletic department website and it will list 44 of Harper’s greatest achievements — and the post has yet to been updated to include her senior season.
Here, in a nutshell — a big nutshell — are the highlights of her accomplishments beyond her blocks record:
•Three-time NCAA D-II All-American. (Honorable mention as a sophomore, second team as a junior, first team as a senior.)
•Western’s first consensus All-American in volleyball. (Named first team by both the American Volleyball Coaches Association and the D-II Conference Commissioners Association.)
•Four-time, first-team All-GNAC selection. (Only the third player in league history to be first team four years.)
•Four-time selection to the D-II West Region All-tournament team.
•Three-time selection to the Elite-Eight All-tournament team.
•10-time GNAC Player of the Week, a conference record. (The previous best was eight.)
•GNAC Player of the Year for 2019.
In addition, in Harper’s four years at Western, she helped the Vikings compile a 72-8 conference record, good for two GNAC titles and two second-place finishes. Overall, Western was 107-21 in Harper’s tenure, finishing second in the country in 2018 and third in 2015. The Vikings reached the West Region finals in 2016 and 2019.
She red-shirted in 2014 and sat out 2017 for personal reasons.
Harper called her time at Western a “story book” career.
“I was lucky enough to see all the hard work I put in help me achieve all my goals,” she said.
“Every year had its special memories; every year was different,” she added.
Being able to compete so close to home helped enhance the experience, Harper said.
“It was far enough from Oak Harbor for me to make my own life, but close enough for family events,” she said.
It also allowed Harper’s Oak Harbor High School coach Kerri Molitor, who played for Western during her college days, to attend matches, often with current Wildcats in tow, Harper said.
Harper credits Western coach Diane Flick-Williams for helping her develop as an athlete and person.
“I can’t describe how great a coach Diane is,” Harper said. “She not only helped on the physical side but mentally too.”
Flick-Williams said, “I couldn’t be more proud of Kayleigh. Yes, she has had an outstanding career and her records make her one of the most decorated players to have competed at WWU. However, her development as a person and a teammate far exceeded my expectations, and that will be her lasting effect on this program.
“Each remaining player will take a piece of her with them, just like they do with every senior class, and train with the excellence in mind of those who came before them.”
During her time at Western, Harper said she learned the importance of making connections, never quitting (“everything is for a reason”), working as a team and being vulnerable.
“Sometimes you have to be willing to have hard conversations,” she added.
Harper’s success, she said, also comes from understanding that “everything is a process.”
“It is your work ethic — you are not going to give up when things are hard,” she said. “You are going to fail, and regardless you need to give 110 percent all the time.”
She also learned from All-American teammate Kayla Erickson, who was a senior middle the year Harper red-shirted.
“Being around such good players, you don’t have any option but to get better,” Harper said.
Harper, who is the daughter of Darren and Ashley Harper, completed her degree in business management earlier this month.
“I’m giving myself some time off until January, and then it is time to start looking for a job.”
Does the future include volleyball?
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I’m not opposed to it, but I am not actively seeking it.”
If volleyball does return, those involved need to be warned. Expect a block party to break out.