HOWLAND - When Kelly Barzak had to make a choice between basketball and volleyball on the college level, there was no need to flip a coin.
The Howland High School graduate is so talented at both that she plans to be a two-sport athlete at Thiel College in Greenville, Pa. The ability to excel at more than one sport while maintaining good grades in the classroom are reasons why Barzak was selected female Student-Athlete of the Year by The Tribune Chronicle.
Juggling two sports and studies isn't a challenge Barzak considers daunting. In high school she had to balance school work with three sports - she competed in the discus in track and field.
"Going to Thiel and doing both sports will help me with my studies because it will keep me focused," Barzak said. "I can never do badly in class because it will affect me playing sports."
Barzak had the rare privilege of participating in both the Ohio North-South All-Star basketball game and the Ohio All-Star volleyball match. She was a two-time first team All-District selection in volleyball. In addition, she was twice selected first team all-conference and was named Howland's offensive player of the year three times. She was selected most valuable player at the Dover Invitational.
In basketball, Barzak was a two-time all-conference choice and first-team All-Trumbull County. She was named Player of the Year at the Trumbull County Coaches Association banquet.
Barzak captured the district and conference crowns in the discus and was Howland's field event MVP.
Volleyball coach Jose Jiminez and basketball coach John Diehl agreed that Barzak prefers volleyball. Jiminez knows there's no way he can adequately replace the 6-foot-1 Barzak, who was a scoring force.
"She's an outstanding middle hitter," said Jiminez, who's been the coach for one season. "She's an excellent server, and her defensive skills are A-plus. (Her size) helps, but you can find other hitters taller than her, but she is strong. Her ability to jump two or three times in a row and follow through on a play was amazing. Most players do it once or twice and run out of juice.
"We'll definitely miss her. We have a big hole on our team right now. I'm trying to figure out how to fill the gap, which will be very hard."
Barzak followed in a long line of outstanding centers on the basketball team, including Alexa Williams, Ellie Shields and Angela Cape. She finished her high school career with 986 points and averaged 19 points a game as a senior. She holds school records for making 19 straight free throws and converting all of her field-goal attempts in one game in scoring 20 points.
Barzak did her best work when she had he ball posted low. If she didn't produce a field goal, there was a good chance she would head to the foul line.
"Her footwork is the best of some of the post players we've had," Diehl said. "You showed Kelly how to do something, and she did it the way she was taught to do it. College coaches that watched her always commented on her footwork.
"When she got the ball in the paint and other girl was smaller, she was going to score one way or another."
The Tigers posted a 20-0 record in the regular season, but their run came to an end with a 65-43 loss to Twinsburg in a Division I district semifinal. Barzak credits Diehl for helping develop her game to the point she could be the leader of an undefeated team.
"He's a great coach," Barzak said. "There was never a dull moment at practice. We're always working hard. We wouldn't have been 20-0 without constant encouragement and hard work."
Following in the footsteps of Williams and Shields proved beneficial to Barzak. She learned a lot of lessons trying to guard the two in practices before she became a starter.
"Ellie and Alexa were great teachers of the game of basketball," Barzak said. "They helped me so much. They made me love the game, too. It helped me so much my senior year having been able to guard them my sophomore and freshman years."
The surprising thing about Barzak's excellence in volleyball and basketball is that the coaches didn't mind the attention she paid to both sports. Coaches often say they want an athlete to play more than one sport, but many would secretly like the athlete to concentrate on one pursuit.
"Volleyball helped her with her jumping," Diehl said. "I'm glad she played (volleyball) because it helped her coordination and her confidence."
Jiminez has no doubts that Barzak will handle the challenge the next level of competition will present because of how she dealt with it in high school.
"There were many times when she was playing two sports at the same time," Jiminez said. "She played travel volleyball at the same time when basketball was going on, and she had very good grades. She did that for the last six years. She's able to balance her academics and her athletics."
Barzak, who had a 3.7 grade-point average, plans to major in education. She selected Thiel because she felt at home when she visited the college.
Barzak credits her success as a student-athlete to her father, Joe, who was an all-state basketball player at Maplewood High School.
"He taught me so much about respecting the game and how to achieve my goals and what I have to do to get where I want to be," she said.
Barzak now has other goals for which to aim. The help of those that influenced her in high school - teammates, parents and coaches - should provide valuable assistance along the way.
"I'm very happy with her choice," Diehl said. "She got a great deal over there with financial help. She probably could have gone bigger, but she will be a success on the Division III level. She'll do fine."
No one should doubt that.