Dahlke won't let mind block her
Arizona volleyball outside hitter Kendra Dahlke brings more to the team than just a powerful arm; She brings leadership and guidance. After being the youngest player on the team during the 2016 season, Dahlke had to make adjustments both mentally and physically to become the leader on the court for her teammates.
Growing up in Bonsall, Calif., Dahlke didn’t know about the sport of volleyball. Instead,she played basketball for many years and loved every part of it. Basketball was the first sport Dahlke was interested in and was serious about, due to her father, David Dahlke, who played basketball in college at Minnesota and Drake.
When entering middle school, Dahlke was introduced to volleyball by her P.E. teacher, Cindy Lloyd. Lloyd is the mother of Carli Lloyd, who competed as a setter for Team USA in the 2016 Olympic Games.
“[Lloyd] saw me on campus and noticed my height,” Dahlke said. “She made me go to tryouts and give it a try and she was super encouraging about it. I was really hesitant going into tryouts and I sucked. I didn’t know what to do with the ball, I didn’t know anything.”
Lloyd worked with Dahlke on her basic skills and put her on the varsity team right away, but Dahlke had a lot of learning to do. She continued to progress and realized that her love for basketball soon faded and volleyball took over.
“The coaches I had and my teammates is the reason why I went with volleyball, and it all started from the beginning with Cindy Lloyd, to my club coaches and now to Dave Rubio.”
Dahlke’s volleyball career took off in high school, where she played on varsity all four years, but during her senior year she tore her labrum in her shoulder. Her injury didn’t stop her, as she played with a torn labrum and ended up earning Most Value Player during her high school championships.
But while Dahlke was recovering and constantly training she found herself in a constant battle with her own mind.
“After that, I had a lot of work to do because I was coming back from that injury,” Dahlke said. “I saw other players making big steps as athletes and I felt like I was trying to catch up. I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, literally.”
Her injury didn’t stop her from getting multiple college offers from UCLA, North Carolina, Ohio State, Kansas, Oregon State and Arizona.
“I chose Arizona because of the team and the coaching staff, and of course the beautiful campus,” Dahlke said. “Dave has been here for 26 years and he is a great coach. So I’ve always had great coaches and wanted to continue that into college. It was super important to me.”
It has been a rollercoaster ride for Dahlke at Arizona. Since her freshman year, Dahlke has been a valuable player for the Wildcats, but it wasn’t until her sophomore year that she showed what she was made of.
Dahlke had her breakout season then and was a primary offensive weapon for the ‘Cats. She saw a 2.5 kill jump from her freshman year, averaging 3.97 kills per set. Dahlke ended the season with 496 kills, which was the most on the on the team and ninth most in Arizona history.
Coming off a strong sophomore season, Dahlke found herself struggling to get back in the grove as a junior. The 2017 season started slowly for Dahlke and her mind started blocking her from showing her skills on the court.
“I think a lot of it has been my own brain, and knowing that we were going to be a new team and it was obviously something I was frustrated and worried about in the back of my head,” Dahlke said. “So I was always thinking that I needed to do more, but instead I needed to focus on myself.”
Dahlke realized that when she is playing well during matches, it helped the rest of her teammates. She learned through her ups and downs that she needs to focus on what she can control and then use that to help her teammates.
“Kendra is really self-imposed,” Rubio said. “The way she goes mentally is the way she will go physically. If she can manage her frustration then she can be very solid. When she is good it makes it easier for everyone around our team to function at a higher level when she stays in her consistent state.”
Dahlke has realized how to control her mind and manage her frustration on the court, which has helped her improve this season and become a strong leader.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m playing mom out there, but I cant get frustrated with my team,” Dahlke said. “I always get frustrated with myself more than anything and when my team makes mistakes I am here to encourage them. This is a different role than what I played last year, being the young one on the court, to now the oldest one.”
On the court you can see Dahlke giving advice and encouraging the freshman, including middle blocker Candice Denny.
“I consider Kendra as a big sister, so I look up to her. She helps lead me and guide me at the net telling me what to look out for and it helps prepare me to play the game so I can do better,” Denny said.
Taking on the leadership role was unexpected for Dahlke, as she always felt like she was behind in the sport, but she knows the nerves that come with being a freshman and wants to be the teammate the young girls can go to when they need guidance.
“Having someone that you can lean on when you’re out there will help you not only play better, but feel more confident in yourself,” Dahlke said. “I can be that person they can come to when they are struggling and be there for encouragement.”
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