Lynden Christian’s Kara Bajema undoubtedly knows what it takes to be a champion.
Bajema not only helped the Lyncs to a Class 1A state basketball title last winter, but she followed that up by leading LC to its first volleyball state title in November.
While two championships halfway through her junior year speaks volumes about what The Bellingham Herald’s 2014 All-Whatcom Volleyball Player of the Year has meant to the Lynden Christian athletics program, her volleyball coach Kim Grycel might have made a bigger statement when talking about the 6-foot-1 outside hitter.
“She has to be one of the best, if not the best volleyball player to come through Lynden Christian and maybe even in the county,” Grycel said in a phone interview.
Bajema’s 435 kills (4.7 per set) and .315 kill percentage this season certainly back up Grycel’s comments, but the humble player still was surprised to hear her coach’s comments.
“She’s an amazing person,” Bajema said of her coach in a phone interview. “For her to say that, it means a lot. There have been so many great people.”
Grycel has plenty of background to judge some of the best players to come through Whatcom County, as many of them have played on the Lyncs’ court and a majority of those in LC colors.
The Lyncs have made it to state 18 straight years under the direction of Grycel, but 2014 was the first year Lynden Christian finally took home the trophy, and much of that is thanks to Bajema.
“When I coached her in middle school, I knew she was going to be great,” Grycel said.
The only problem in middle school was Bajema’s main sport was basketball, not volleyball. Three years later and Bajema’s commitment to the University of Washington to play volleyball now makes her freshman player profile, which stated her goal was to play basketball in college, somewhat humorous.
But after a year in middle school of playing, Bajema started picking up volleyball at the club level and came to love the sport in no time.
“Ever since I was little, I played basketball. Volleyball wasn’t in the picture,” Bajema said. “But the volleyball environment is so fun. When you get a kill or a good dig, it pumps you up. I love the environment it gives off. Basketball is sometimes more serious.”
Plus Bajema has the body of a volleyball player — “thin, lanky and long”, Grycel said.
Not to mention the powerful strike when going for a kill that Bajema’s become known for around the league.
No matter where she goes or what gym she’s playing in, people turn and watch when they hear the loud thump that echoes when “Kara’s beast mode” comes out.
“She’s gotten a lot more confident in herself as a player and her ability out there,” Grycel said. “Naturally, she has this easy going personality out of her, a relaxed confidence. She has the confidence to want the ball in big moments.”
Bajema’s striking has also made the Lyncs a better team, as they have to go against her in practice and it prepared them for the big hitters Lynden Christian would face at state.
“She is just an amazing hitter. It’s exciting for others, but it’s exciting for our team too,” Grycel said. “When get a big block in practice, it’s kind of like ‘Woo! We blocked Kara.’”
Despite her powerful hit, it’s Bajema’s defense that’s been key to her success and the Lyncs’ success, Grycel said.
She recorded 233 digs (2.5 per set) and 50 blocks this year, while Lynden Christian cruised to a 19-2 record. The junior thanks her coach for the decision to put Bajema in the back row, instead of outside hitter, for part of her freshman season for her defensive prowess.
“If you don’t start young, then you’re never going to start. I have to give Grycel a lot of credit,” Bajema said. “Tall people don’t get to experience back row often. I look forward to it just as much as hitting.”
Bajema is also looking forward to next season, when she is hoping to lead Lynden Christian back to another state title before she departs for the University of Washington.
With Bajema and her surplus of championship experience, it’s certainly not out of the question to see a repeat for the Lyncs.