Eirene Kim came into her senior season with the UChicago volleyball team set to take what should have been a well-deserved victory lap. In just three years as a libero for the Maroons, Kim had already established herself as one of the most dominant and successful athletes in recent school history. In the 2013 season, Kim beat her own record set in 2012 for most digs in a season with 802. During that year she also set the record for most digs in a single game with 42 against Bethany College.
Speaking of that banner year, Kim said, “My favorite memory as a volleyball player here was my junior year season. We had such a special team with so many awesome players. Winning UAAs was an unreal feeling, especially because no one really thought we could do it. It’s fun to be the underdog.”
With her name in the record books and the program’s first UAA title and a co-UAA MVP title under her belt, there seemed little Kim wouldn’t be able to do during her senior year.
However, it would not be more accolades or records that would go on to make the story of Kim’s senior year exceptional. Instead, it would be her strength in the face of adversity, the pure guts she displayed in the final games of her career, and her dedication to the sport she loved that would allow her story to transcend the sport itself, reminding us of the power and resilience of human will.
The first change to Eirene’s senior season came with the arrival of new coach Sharon Dingman. Kim’s unrelenting leadership helped ease the entire team into the transition.
Kim approached the switch with nothing but optimism. “Senior season was a fun experience,” she said. “We had a new coaching staff and a new team dynamic. It felt like we were rebuilding our team after such a great previous season, but we prevailed.”
Upon her arrival in Chicago from the University of Iowa, Dingman immediately recognized Eirene’s unmatched ability as a leader and competitor. “I’ve coached 30 years and there is no better story for me to tell than Eirene’s,” she said. “My transition was made easy because all the fourth-years were open and welcoming to new coaching. They set the example from the first day we were together in the gym. However, because Eirene is our leader, it was most important for the team to witness her enthusiasm with the change. She listened, worked diligently at making changes, was open in her dialogue with me and her teammates. All of that isn’t as simple as it sounds, especially with the amount of success Eirene had experienced prior to my arrival. When a team’s leader displays trust, it makes for an easy transition.”
Yet Kim’s major test of her final year came 20 games into the 2014 season, when she fell victim to the injury female athletes everywhere are all too aware of: a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This common yet devastating knee injury usually requires a surgery that keeps an athlete out of commission for at least six months.
Kim, however, had different ideas. Instead of having surgery, she opted to take on a rigorous rehabilitation program with plans of returning to the court to play the final few weeks of her career on a still-torn ACL.
“Eirene’s character, love for her teammates, and her sheer competitiveness was always present but never to the level we experienced after she tore her ACL,” Dingman said. “It requires courage and supreme dedication to work four to six hours a day in rehab, and to deal with the mental challenges of injury. She was able to do that because she had one goal—get back on the court with her friends and teammates. When that happened, our team had a new purpose. She invigorated us with her spirit and her skill. It was joyful to watch us play the last three weeks of our season with Eirene on the court. She was the reason we finished second in UAA and received a bid to the NCAA Tournament.”
Looking back on her senior season, Kim said, “Emotionally and physically, it was a long season, but with everything that happened to our team, I think we were incredibly strong and resilient.”
Beyond being an exceptional competitor, Kim took full advantage of her time in the classroom as well. As a Law, Letters, and Society major, she is also a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, having held leadership positions in the sorority, including service and philanthropy chair and chief educational officer. She has also done work for Maroon TV and has previously contributed to The Maroon as a sports writer. Additionally, she participated in research for Professor Robert Pape’s Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism.
Kim earned UAA All-Academic honors in her second-, third-, and fourth-year seasons.
After graduation, Kim will stay in Chicago to work as a paralegal at Fitch, Even, Tabin & Flannery. After gaining a couple years of work experience, she plans to apply to law school.
As her time in Hyde Park comes to a quick end, Kim uses her experiences to offer advice to the peers she will leave behind.
“If I could offer any other piece of advice to other UChicago students, I would tell them, don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing,” she said. “Find what makes you happy and do you. I think people get lost at this school occasionally because they feel like if they aren’t doing what everyone else is doing, then they must be doing something wrong. Find your core group of people, be happy with yourself, and work hard.”
Kim’s senior season fully embodies her advice. Her impact on UChicago volleyball will surpass the record books, as she has left her mark on Chicago athletics as a whole, demonstrating what can come from a player’s unrelenting love for the sport.