Fall quarter is winding down, and with it goes the accompanied sports. There’s always turnover as seniors graduate and move on. This time around Portland State is losing one of its most prolific players in the 35 year history of the volleyball program. Kasimira “Kasi” Clark wrapped up one literally for the record books. On Nov. 1 she became the all-time digs leader in PSU history, though her journey to get there and her life off the volleyball court may be equally remarkable.
To clarify what a dig is, it is when a defensive player keeps a bona fide attack in play with a pass. One can imagine a player going low or diving to keep the possession alive after the other team spikes or hits an otherwise difficult ball. The stat is measured on an individual basis and has become the trademark of Clark’s game.
“For me the libero position is all about effort because you can get to any ball if you try,” Clark said. “I know people are like ‘I don’t think I can get there.’ It’s fun to see what you can and can’t do. So for me to just go all out and do it is awesome. It gives you a feeling you can’t reenact doing anything else.”
The libero, Clark’s position, is the one player on each team that wears a different colored jersey and is not bound by the normal rules of rotation. They are often a defensive specialist who is charged with covering a larger area of the court than other players. The big responsibility for a libero is to dig balls. Unlike offensive stats like aces or kills, the dig is not usually highlight-reel material. Players who rack up digs are defined by heart and hustle, ready to do the dirty work that helps their team win matches.
Head coach Michael Seeman recruited Clark four years ago, and this year especially, her digging ability has been key to his team’s style.
“First and foremost, digs essentially create swings and transitions,” Seeman said. “So if you’re digging a lot of balls you’re theoretically getting a lot of attempts at kills. I think generally you have a team either strong in one area or the other, being blocking or digging. We are not the strongest blocking team, but digging-wise we are very strong.”
Clark’s path to the PSU record books begins with her family. Her parents, Kenneth and Antonia had four girls in total, Katina, Kambrina and Kasi’s twin sister Kalina. They were instrumental in Clark’s introduction to the game of volleyball.
“My sister played and my dad coached, so I was always around it and wanted to play. I would bug my dad, ‘Let me play, I want to practice.’ And then I got on a team for 12-and-under and started from there when I was about 7.”
Clark’s family life has also intimately shaped her world away from volleyball. Both her parents are deaf and the first language for all four Clark sisters was American Sign Language. They all work as interpreters, Kasi for Sorenson Communications where she uses a videophone to help deaf individuals communicate with the non-signing world.
But that is not enough piled on Clark’s plate. In addition to her job as an interpreter and being a full-time student-athlete, she volunteers at the Student Learning Center, tutoring ASL students.
Growing up in her hometown of Riverside, California, Clark played for Martin Luther King High School where she was mostly an outside hitter. Though she was also a well-known libero on the prep scene where she played for two club teams, the Mavericks and Club West. Her decorations began when she was in high school, where Clark was a two time first team All-Big VIII League selection, league MVP as a junior, and helped her team to a league title in 2008 and second place finish in 2010. In her senior year Clark led her team in kills, aces and digs.
Coming to PSU was not originally part of Clark’s college plans, but a serendipitous coaching change and a welcoming atmosphere changed her mind.
“I was not all about the Portland life,” Clark said. “I heard all it did was rain here and was like, ‘Oh god I don’t want to go here.’ I was committed to go to Bakersfield, [California] then there was a coaching change. [PSU] found out my coach got fired and I didn’t really have anywhere to go. They told me they were interested and I came up to take a look and really fell in love with [the] place. So I came here.”
She explained that her teammates are what has made PSU feel like a second home. “More than the coaching aspect of it, it’s the girls that you have to bond with. They’re the ones you’ll be playing with so you have to be able to get along. When I went to Bakersfield I didn’t really like the environment and the girls.”
Clark played her first game as a Viking in August of 2011. As a true freshman, she played in 31 games. While a senior was ahead of Clark in the rotation and started for most of the season, as it progressed she earned more playing time and eventually started 11 games. In her first season with PSU, Clark totaled 189 digs.
“She paid her dues as a freshman,” Seeman said. “There was another libero above her. She had to be humble, but by the end of her freshman year I think she was competing for that spot.”
Her sophomore campaign was one for the ages. Now an established starter on a veteran team, Clark wasted no time racking up stats. In the first Big Sky Conference game that season, opponent Sacramento State, she posted a career high in digs, 41. On five occasions that year she had 30-plus digs. She also notched a career-high five aces in a three-set sweep of Northern Arizona. It was the first, though not last time she was awarded Big Sky Libero of the Year and she was the first ever Lady Viking to earn that honor. All this was capped by an incredible 635 dig total for the year, a PSU single season record. It was the first, though not the last time she broke a record held by ‘90s volleyball star Eavi Shovlin, who had 552 digs in 1994.
As a junior she would win her second straight Conference Libero of the Year behind continued inspired play. A star-studded PSU team ended up winning the Big Sky Conference regular season title. Clark finished the year with 545 digs.
In 2014, with Clark playing in her final year, Vikings volleyball was in a state of rebuilding. New faces and position changes led to a team trying to find their identity at the same time as trying to win games. Clark and her teammates finished the season with an overall record of 9–19, 7–9 in conference. It was enough for third place in the Big Sky South and a chance in the conference tournament. It wasn’t Clark’s best performance by the numbers, but she would finish third in the Big Sky in digs.
The 2014 volleyball season officially ended when PSU exited the first round of the Big Sky tournament after losing in three straight sets to Northern Colorado. In her final game as a Viking, Clark recorded 12 digs, one assist, and a rare kill, only her fourth this year. It ended up being her third most productive season for digs, finishing with 482.
With her PSU career at its end, we can look back and try to put in perspective the legacy of Clark.
She is the first PSU player to surpass 1,800 digs, finishing with a grand total of 1,851. Shovlin, who Clark had previously passed for single-season digs, held the previous all-time dig record with 1,742 when she graduated in 1997.
Maybe most significant is that all her accomplishments have come while she has been banged up with one injury or another. The summer before coming to PSU Clark tore her meniscus and required surgery. As a junior she had an uncommon hip injury, tearing her labrum. She played through the pain and eventually received offseason surgery. Her injuries have lingered through her PSU tenure and at times affected her mobility and explosiveness. Even this year the injury bug stung Clark with an injured left leg which she taped during matches.
Clark will graduate with a degree in speech and hearing pathology, a field she plans on continuing after taking a year off. She has been an all-academic student athlete three years straight and plans on doing it again this year.
“She’s very skilled and very adaptable,” Seeman said. “She’s no fuss, shows up to work every day—that day-in day-out work ethic.”
For Clark, getting the all-time digs record is an achievement she can look back on, almost a time capsule for her college years.
“That has been a record here for 20 years. When I first got here I didn’t pay any attention [to] it, it wasn’t a thing. People say, ‘I worked my whole life for this,’ but I literally did. Fourteen years of my life I’ve played volleyball. Just to know my name is going to be in a record book at [PSU] and I can show my kids that, I can’t erase that, I can’t take that back.”