Since her sophomore year, center Kayla Bernsen has looked at it. It has hung in her locker, a piece of paper that reads: “Be the most dominant post in the GNAC.”
After receiving the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award on Feb. 29, she can consider that mission accomplished.
How dominant has Bernsen been?
For starters, she lead the conference in blocks-per-game, 3.0, which was good for fifth in NCAA Division II play. On top of that, she compiled nine double-doubles, was fifth in the league for rebounds per game with 8.1, and was third in the conference in shooting percentage by shooting 53.8 percent.
Her stellar play also earned her a spot of the GNAC First Team All-League team along with teammate Taylor Peacocke. On Feb. 27, she joined Peacocke by becoming the 25th player to ever score 1,000 points for her career at Western. By season’s end, she also became the fourth player in school history to record 1,000 points, 650 rebounds and 200 blocked shots.
Despite her many accomplishments, it wasn’t always so easy for Bernsen.
“I was a wimp. My first few years were really, really hard. I almost quit multiple times,” Bernsen said about her early days as a Viking. “I really struggled mentally and it manifested itself physically.”
Bernsen said she used to get kicked out of practices for being tired and slow. Bernsen says she used to take her abilities for granted until she tore her ACL before the 2013-14 season and was forced to sit out the season as a redshirt.
“Sitting on the sidelines was tough, but it made me such a better teammate,” Bernsen said. “I just got so much more motivation.”
Sydney Donaldson, a former teammate and current member of the Viking’s coach staff, agrees.
Donaldson said that the injury gave Bernsen a passion that had been missing.
“Looking back, it was probably the best thing for her career,” Donaldson said.
For opponents, it may be hard to remember Bernsen as anything more than a force in the paint.
Her 203 blocked shots are good for third all-time in school history. Bernsen also had a knack for picking up the offense boards, finishing her career with 315.