Even Pictionary can't suspend Emily Boerger's competitive nature.
"I was partnered with my mom, and at one point I got so mad at my mom, and my siblings were like, 'Dude, chill out,'" said Boerger, a senior middle blocker for Western Washington University's volleyball team. "I get way too competitive."
She admits it willingly and without shame, since that innate facet of her being has never led her astray. She seeks perfection in every part of her life, and it isn't merely something she can turn on and off, even if it is a simple game of Pictionary.
And the thing is nobody, especially the women's volleyball team, would want her any other way.
"I don't feel like you can excel or push yourself in one aspect and then slack off in another," Boerger said. "I just try no matter what I am attempting to do, whether it is playing in a game or doing my school work, I just try to push myself to do my best."
To a certain extent, she's been successful in her endeavor to be perfect. But it's not only herself she's speaking of. The Vikings enter their matchup with the University of Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday, Oct. 19, the No. 7 team in the country, posting a 14-1 record while remaining undefeated in league play. Anchorage has found similar success, also coming in undefeated in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play. The match starts 7 p.m. at Sam Carver Gymnasium, and the winner will hold sole possession of first place in the GNAC.
Boerger's development since arriving in Bellingham five years ago has largely been dependent on her maturation mentally, WWU volleyball coach Diane Flick said.
"A lot of times when you look at perfectionists, their perspective is that, 'I am not good enough, and that is what I keep striving to get better at,'" Flick said in a phone interview. "I wanted her to know that she was good enough, and that she is a great person inherently, and now she gets to add to a great person to be even better."
Succeeding has become second nature for Boerger, but weathering the storm that is college presented challenges she had yet to face. As her class valedictorian at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, any grade less than an A was entirely foreign. One quarter into WWU and it wasn't.
"It was kind of a shock to get used to," Boerger said of getting an A-minus in freshman calculus.
Flick is big on her players learning to confront the trials of life. In Boerger's case, her freshman year, which she redshirted to save a year of eligibility, offered plenty. But in expected fashion, she learned that everything needed to be taken in stride, and that an A-minus in calculus wasn't the end of the world.
Life, shockingly, continued on.
"She realized the showing of the struggle is OK," Flick said. "It is very healthy for others to see her (struggle) ... because the more vulnerable she made herself, the more people could relate to her. It is hard to relate to a perfectionist - it is intimidating."
Boerger, a biology major set to graduate in spring 2014, echoed her coaches sentiment: "I realized it is OK to get an A-minus or a B-plus. ... I think I am better at accepting mistakes and using mistakes. If I make an error, it is not something I dwell on. It is something I use to figure something out, and learn something from it."
Her growth has been apparent in her senior season. The 6-foot-1 middle blocker currently leads the nation in overall hitting percentage, connecting on 43.2 percent of her kill attempts. She sits fourth on WWU in total kills with 114, behind only Kayla Erickson (171), Kelsey Moore (125) and Jennica McPherson (123), but her most valuable attribute has little do with any of her physical gifts. Rather the mentality she brings with her to practice each day, a contagious joy that spreads like a common cold.
"She'll get mad at herself. She'll definitely put some pressure on herself to get better, but boy does she seem to have fun at practice, and that is really infectious," Flick said.
Her presence, too, is one not lost on Flick. As her lone senior, Flick relies on Boerger, a 2012 honorable mention GNAC all-star, like a confidante, someone to keep a "pulse on the team," as she described. Fitting into that role hasn't necessarily been difficult for Boerger, either, since the level of detail that makes her such a successful student also transitions to the volleyball court.
"She is cerebral," Flick said, using such a specific word to describe Boerger's ability to take what Flick and the coaches tell her and apply it to in-game situations.
She doesn't remain quiet when presented with an opportunity to give advice to the other Vikings, a testament to her growing level of comfort as a leader on this team. Hearing her constant chatter on the sideline either during matches or in practice is a departure from the shy, introverted freshman that Flick met so long ago.
But then again, she always knew buried down within that nervous 18-year-old was the leader she confides in so readily now, the one who has become a high tide raising her teammates to be greater.
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates and stories.
Year Matches Kills Attack Pcnt Aces Digs
2010 5 12 29.2 1 1
2011 21 121 20.1 7 24
2012 28 178 27.9 6 17
2013 15 114 43.2 10 36
QUICK FACTS FOR WWU-ALASKA ANCHORAGE MATCH
1. The Vikings haven't lost at Sam Carver Gymnasium since 2011, with their lone loss of this season coming against Sonoma State in four sets on Sept. 14. Since the loss to Sonoma State, WWU has reeled of six consecutive victories, all of which came in straight sets.
2. WWU is getting offensive contributions from multiple players this season, with Kayla Erickson, Jennica McPherson, Kelsey Moore and Emily Boerger all totaling upward of 100 kills apiece. That, in large part, has helped propel the Vikings to the 10th-ranked offense in the country.
3. Alaska-Anchorage has a pair of hitters that rank in the top 10 in the GNAC in total kills. Julia Mackey and Katelynn Zanders rank eighth and ninth, respectively, and will look to challenge a WWU team that has only lost four sets all season.