Thiel's Barzak has killer instinct

Thiel standout holds the school’s career kills record

By John Bassetti

Is Kelly Barzak better in volleyball or basketball?

The former Howland multi-sport standout recently earned Presidents’ Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors for the second time this season as the middle hitter on Thiel College’s volleyball squad.

The Tomcats are playing in the conference championships this weekend at Thomas More College (Ky.), where they hope to win Thiel’s first PAC crown.

Thiel opens against Bethany in the second round today and will most likely meet Thomas More on Saturday.

Since Thiel is 0-2 against Bethany this season, Barzak, a senior, prefers using the “third time is a charm” expression when the teams meet today.

The same phrase applies to Thiel’s 1-1 record against Thomas More this season as well as the fact that the Tomcats lost to More in previous PAC championship tournament finals during Barzak’s freshman and sophomore years.

“We’re going to win them both,” Barzak said of the challenges over the next two days. “The third time is a charm; that’s our theme going into this tourney.”

Of her four volleyball seasons at Thiel, the 2009 Howland graduate said that the 2012 Tomcats are the best.

“This would be a big year for us if we could pull it off,” Barzak said of the PAC title goal.

Of this season’s five senior starters, Barzak, Alyssa Chine (Jackson-Milton) and Megg Andrews of Canfield started in the two previous PAC championship appearances.

As middle hitter, Barzak’s job is to block all balls that are hit to earn quick plays, while Thiel’s setter keeps the ball low so that it’s hard for the opposition to play.

“It’s hard for the opposition to dig middle hits because it’s so fast,” Barzak said of the tactic.

Against Westminster recently, Barzak snapped Abbey Kiger’s record for career kills. Barzak’s 12 on Oct. 27 gave her 1,275 and surpassed Kiger’s 1,239 (from 2009). Kiger is from Mineral Ridge.

Chine, an outside hitter, is also over 1,000 kills this season.

Barzak, a three-time first team All-PAC selection, has the school record for total blocks with 441. She surpassed the old record of 358 set by Jessica Erickson in 2004.

Barzak has 305 kills this season.

“As long as one or fewer touch the ball on the other side of the net, it’s a kill,” she explained.

Barzak also holds the career block record in basketball with 205, exceeding Cindy Bynum’s 121.

Thiel began the season by losing its first four sets in an early tournament, then made lineup changes.

“It’s worked out much better,” Barzak said. “We didn’t have things figured out at first.”

One adventure was a stint in Spain the summer between her sophomore and junior years.

“We had four matches in Barcolona and Madrid against Spanish teams from pro to club and went 2-2,” Barzak said of the results.

A championship this weekend would send Thiel into the NCAA tourney.

Along with Andrews, a right-side/middle hitter, Thiel’s other seniors are Ashley Donnelly and Chelsea Meister. Another area player is Leanna Yeager of Poland, a junior.

The Thiel volleyball experience isn’t over yet, but it’s made an impression on Barzak.

“These are some of my best friends and they’re dedicated to the team and the sport,” she said. “We work out all year round. Sometimes people don’t give Division III sports enough credit, but we put just as much effort into what Div. I schools do.”

Her parents are Joe Barzak of Mecca and Carol Barzak, who passed away last November.

“Dad is totally awesome,” she said. “He’s my No. 1 fan and, without him supporting me, it would have been a rougher journey. He’s there when I need him.”

When volleyball is done, Barzak may have one day’s rest before basketball begins.

“It’ll be a quick transition,” she said.

Is Kelly Barzak better in volleyball or basketball?

“It’s all in who you ask,” she said.

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