BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (BVM) — Emily Kleffman is an elite athlete. She proved so through her high school basketball and volleyball careers at Tinley Park High School. But the 2020 grad also makes a big impact off the court, and is continuing to do so this winter as she awaits the official start of her college basketball career at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Also playing softball growing up, Kleffman was quickly introduced to basketball and volleyball while in sixth grade, and became a strong player in both thanks to her impressive 6-foot-1 height.
Although Kleffman struggled at first, by eighth grade, she began discovering her talent in both sports, creating excitement as she entered Tinley Park High School.
Her high school varsity volleyball career began during her sophomore year, where she primarily played the middle position. But before the Titans’ regional matchup that season, Kleffman’s coach decided to try her out on the outside, a great move for the volleyball star and her team.
Kleffman helped the Titans all the way to super sectionals that season as an all-conference player. During her offseasons, she also began playing with Ultimate Volleyball Club, where she continued to gain invaluable experience while realizing she was a special talent.
In her junior season, Kleffman was again an all-conference player, as well as a South Suburban Conference Player of the Year and all-state honoree. She posted a single-season school record with 413 kills, which she later broke the following year.
An all-conference player again as a senior, the 19-year-old would break Tinley Park’s all-time kills record with 979 in her career. Overall, her volleyball tenure with the Titans went about as well as it could have.
“I’d say I was pretty successful,” Kleffman mentioned. “A lot of the credit goes to my varsity coach because he put so much time and effort into me. In my junior year, I didn’t even know I was close to breaking any records … but that was really cool. When I found out I was close to breaking the career-kill record, I put a lot of extra practice in. When I did break it, it probably wasn’t the happiest moment of my life, but it was definitely up there.”
Kleffman was considering playing volleyball in college, and did receive some offers to do so. But it turns out she had a pretty special talent on the basketball court as well that would continue her athletic career at the next level.
The 19-year-old began playing varsity basketball in her sophomore year as well, and really came into her own during her junior season. It was then that she became an all-conference player while helping the Titans to a South Suburban Conference championship — their first in over 20 years.
As a senior, Kleffman again earned an all-conference nod, and left the Tinley Park program in special fashion. On senior night, Kleffman achieved an impressive triple-double that saw her score 27 points, grab 18 rebounds and block 13 shots. The moment was one to remember for the two-sport athlete.
“I didn’t have as many awards or records in basketball but I did improve a lot during high school,” Kleffman said. “The triple-double on my senior night was the way to go out. I just went out, had fun and ended up with a good game.”
Going into her senior year, the Titans played in a tournament where Illinois Wesleyan first saw Kleffman play. They reached out to the star athlete, and from there, the relationship took off.
Expecting to play volleyball, Illinois Wesleyan was Kleffman’s only collegiate basketball offer. But citing a good fit in large part due to the nursing program they offer, the 19-year-old decided becoming a part of Wesleyan’s women’s basketball team would be the best fit for her.
Of course, Kleffman has endured a freshman season unlike any other so far for the Titans. With COVID-19 delaying her season and suspending practices, the basketball standout has faced an added challenge. However, she still believes she is improving significantly each day.
“The pace is much faster and it’s much more intense from high school to college,” Kleffman said. “At first, I didn’t think I would be able to handle it. But I’ve been putting in the work everyday and I’ve definitely improved from the first practice to our last practice.”
Illinois Wesleyan will play a 12-game schedule beginning in January. Practice for the Titans is scheduled to begin again on Jan. 4.
Kleffman is eager to officially kick off her college basketball career, and believes she can be a solid contributor for the Titans right away if called upon.
“I’m excited but I’m also kind of nervous,” Kleffman said. “If I do end up playing in the games, I think I can handle it. During our scrimmages, my coach told me I run the floor really well and told me I have really good hands. My goal is to just get better every single practice and overall I just want to be the best player I can be.”
During her season’s hiatus, Kleffman has made a tremendous community impact by again taking up a hobby she has done the last several years — crocheting.
She first learned how to crochet in middle school thanks to her great aunt. Kleffman started making blankets, and soon learned how to make hats as well. As she entered high school, the 19-year-old saw the opportunity for her hobby to become something more, and she began donating the hats she was making to those in need.
Donating to PASS Pregnancy Care Center in the past, Kleffman has made over 250 hats, and has now begun making booties and scarves as well. Due to Covid, this year, Kleffman has donated her work to Together We Cope, allowing her to still make an impact.
“So far, I have about 55 baby hats made, and I have about four or five scarves,” Kleffman said. “I’m a crafty person in general, so when I learned how to crochet I thought it was really cool.
“I’ve been crocheting hats and donating for three or four years and I realized there are a lot of less fortunate people out there. I’m lucky enough to live in a house where there is heat and air conditioning, warm clothes to wear everyday and I don’t have to worry about food. You see people who are in need all the time, so I wanted to start making stuff and donate to people to make their day and make them happy. Helping people who need it is a good feeling for me and I like being the change by helping people out.”
Kleffman plans to keep crocheting and donating for years to come. This isn’t the only way she has given back in the past, as the Illinois Wesleyan freshman has also helped out with local Christmas drives in Tinley Park, Ill., as well volunteering time in elderly homes.
“I just like being able to help people and it makes me feel good about myself,” Kleffman explained. “A lot of people out there do need help and I just like the feeling of being able to make someone’s day.”
While at Illinois Wesleyan, Kleffman will study nursing, and hopes to earn a job in the field after college. Going above and beyond in anything that she does, Kleffman will look to do the same in her future profession, and believes her past academic experience can help her get to a higher level.
“During high school, I always kept my grades up because I knew I wouldn’t be playing sports for a career,” Kleffman said. “By having AP and all-honor classes in high school, I also learned really good time management. I know nursing is a tough major but I think I’ll be able to handle it well.”
A bright future awaits Kleffman as a college athlete and as a medical professional someday. But what she has done over the years by giving back through something she loves shows a special character. Kleffman has made a true impact on many people already in her young life, and there is little doubt she will continue to make the days of many for years to come.