As the second of three Division I athlete siblings, Kara Bajema played several sports growing up and found it tough to pick one to specialize in. But based on what she's done for UW volleyball this season, it looks like she made the right choice.
Kara Bajema is hard to miss. At 6-foot-2, the junior outside hitter is becoming a force on the volleyball court for the Washington Huskies.
Expectations were low for the UW squad this season, but as the Huskies host Arizona on Nov. 2, Bajema has become a vital part of the team’s success and has taken a leadership role on a team that has been competitive despite having lost most of its star power to graduation this year.
Bajema transitioned from middle blocker to outside hitter before the 2017 season, the same position she played in high school and has blossomed since the position switch.
She is currently sixth in the Pac-12 in kills, with 3.89 per set, and her team sits tied for seventh place in the Pac-12, at 5-7 in conference play, and 13-9 overall.
Most Read Sports Stories
- What are Seahawks getting in CB Quinton Dunbar? 'A young Richard Sherman,' says a former coach.
- Analysis: Jadeveon Clowney watch continues for Seahawks. But there's no apparent end in sight
- How Husky wide receivers coach Junior Adams found a second home in Prosser, Washington
- Before unexpected death, ‘fun-loving’ Bryce Beekman left lasting impact on Washington State teammates
- Marysville's Jim Pearson has run at least a mile every day for 50 years and counting — and he's not stopping anytime soon
It’s yet another reminder that Bajema made the right choice in picking volleyball over her other love, basketball, when she found herself at an athletic crossroads as a high school junior.
Bajema, 20, comes from athletic stock. As the middle child in a family of three kids who are Division I-caliber athletes, she grew up immersed in sports.
Her older sister Coryn, 24, played soccer at South Carolina, while her younger brother Cole, almost 18, is a basketball star at Lynden Christian High School, and a University of Michigan basketball commit.
Three children, three D-I athletes, three different collegiate conferences. How did one family from Lynden, a small town tucked up near the Canadian border, produce so much top-flight athletic talent?
Their parents, Shane and Beth, take little credit in the matter.
“It’s nothing that we controlled, for sure,” Shane Bajema said. “It was a blessing from genetics. From the standpoint of what we could control, we let them find what they’re passionate about.”
Still, raising three kids with collegiate sports aspirations was no easy task. Lynden is a nearly two-hour drive to Seattle and all three kids had to travel to Seattle for practice multiple times per week. For two years in high school, Kara had to travel all the way to Puyallup for club volleyball practice.
The three Bajema kids say they’re grateful their parents went out of their way to give them every opportunity to succeed.
“We owe it all to them,” Cole Bajema said. “I give them all the credit in the world for taking us to Seattle. They didn’t even make us drive, they would drive so we could catch up on sleep or do homework. We really wouldn’t be going where we are without them.”
Kara played several different sports growing up, including soccer, basketball, and volleyball. She was good at all of them, so, of the three Bajema siblings, she wrestled hardest with the question of which sport to specialize in.
Ultimately, Coryn’s athletic choices helped steer Kara’s path.
Coryn was the first to go through the sometimes confusing recruitment and commitment process and her siblings say they learned a lot from her experience.
“From a young age, all of us knew that we wanted to play sports in college,” Kara said. “It was helpful seeing her go through the process. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we got better with each of the three kids.”
Once Coryn started excelling at soccer, Kara shifted her attention to basketball and volleyball because she wanted to make her mark in her own sport.
However, Kara soon realized that she simply didn’t have the time to play both sports at the highest level and knew she had to figure out which one she wanted to play in college.
“I remember sitting in our living room with my mom and dad, and in tears,” Kara said. “I love basketball so much and I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I didn’t think my junior year that I would be done playing. But I definitely prayed about it, got feedback from my parents that I wanted to play (volleyball).”
Clearly, Kara made the right choice.
“Her role on the court has expanded so dramatically,” UW volleyball coach Keegan Cook said. “She was kind of a one-trick pony last year. She had one small job that she got really good at. Now she’s got six jobs.
Kara’s role has changed from mostly blocking the opposing team’s shots, to being more of an offensive weapon for the Huskies, and her stats this season are another indication that the position switch is working.
“How much we count on her in so many phases of the game is tenfold from what it was,” Cook said.
Even though Kara chose to pursue volleyball, she still likes to show her stuff on the hardwood when she can.
She and Cook play one-on-one occasionally after practice. Kara seems pretty confident that she has the upper hand, and both agree that the games get pretty competitive.
Case in point: Kara says she once knocked her coach onto his backside.
“If there is a hoop down and a basketball in the area, he’ll say ‘Kara, do you want to play one-on-one?’” Kara said. “I think he takes it pretty competitively, and I don’t want to lose either. I’m 3-0 so far.”