Kelly Barzak has perfected the art of juggling.
She doesn't mesmerize crowds with her hand-eye coordination, but her mastery excelling in two NCAA Division III sports (volleyball and women's basketball) and carrying a 3.85 GPA en route to earning her degree in elementary education in May.
"I'm the type of person that I always need something to do," Barzak said. "Actually the more stuff that I have, the better I am at time management. I was always in a season. Either it was volleyball season, basketball season, then into spring volleyball season. I never came out of the routine of having practice every day, coming back and going to the library and studying. It was my routine every single day for the past four years."
The 2009 Howland High School graduate was one of eight collegiate athletes to be named to the National Collegiate Scouting Association Athletic Recruiting 2013 Athleader All-American Team. Only eight athletes were selected by nominations from coaches, sports information directors and athletic directors around the country this first season of the award.
According to the news release, an Athleader is "defined by not only excelling on the field, but by putting their team first, valuing their education and having a thirst for learning. The 'all-in' attitude of these players is made apparent through their all-out work ethic, as well as the legacy they leave on the field, campus, and community. These athletes use these factors to lead by example and give back to empower others on their campus and in their community."
She ended her career as the women's basketball program's career leader in blocks (288), third in points (1,401) and fifth in rebounds (773). In volleyball, Barzak set the school record for career kills (1,292) and career blocks (449). She led the Presidents Athletic Conference with a .327 hitting percentage, the fourth highest single-season total in school history.
In addition, Barzak was named to the Capital One Academic All-American team in both volleyball and women's basketball.
"I think it's one of the hardest things," Thiel women's basketball coach Rob Clune said. "What she accomplished is unbelievable because when you look at it, and I've been around a long time. Not only do you have to be someone who does great in the classroom, which for any student is a great accomplishment in my mind, but you have to excel in a sport. With Kelly, you have to excel in two sports because they just don't give the award because you have a great GPA. You have to have a great GPA and also merit the accomplishments in each sport to be named Academic All-American. To do it in two sports is incredible."
In basketball, Clune said Barzak set a standard that won't be duplicated anytime soon.
"She did about everything for us," Clune said. "She is the type of player, from an offensive standpoint, you can go to and she can make plays for you. She has taken over games where she's been the top player on the court. We asked her to help out because we were a little thin at the guard spot. We asked her to expand her spot and do a little more ball handling. We felt she had a more favorable match-up to bring the ball up the court or to create something offensively. She's been able to, this past year, to expand her game and into roles she hasn't been asked to do before. On the defensive end, she was doing better than what we thought. With her ability to intimidate, dominate, from a defensive standpoint, it would be hard-pressed in years to come by a Thiel basketball player."
Her skills in volleyball helped her succeed in basketball.
"For a player like Kelly, it helped her with anticipation, body control," Clune said. "She set the record for blocked shots in a career. She was one of the top shot blockers in the nation for at least two straight years. I don't think anybody will come close, at least for the near future, to her records as far as blocking shots. I think that can be attributed to her abilities on the volleyball court. I think they short sided her as far as blocks. I think she had a lot more tips, too. It's not only the blocked shots, but the shots she doesn't block - she changes. The two of them have helped her in both sports, I think."
This fall, Barzak is using her on-court talents as a graduate assistant volleyball coach at Muskingum College.
"I think it's pretty similar," Barzak said. "I think the greatest coaches in the world are able to motivate their players, to be able to love the game. That's the most important thing about coaching. Once you get them to that stage, then after that, everything falls into place. They want to learn about the game plan. They want to stay mentally and physically prepared at that highest level."
Clune said Barzak could've coached basketball as well.
"She's the type of player that has maximized her abilities all throughout her career," Clune said. "I've only coached her one year. For one year, I could see all the good qualities a good, young coach would have. She's the hardest worker when she comes to practice. She's the team leader. She always strive to get the most out of her ability. She pushes her teammates to do the same. I think those qualities will translate great as far as being a coach, whether it's volleyball or basketball. I told her, 'You'd be a great basketball coach, too.' I really think she's going to do great things with coaching."
Also, Barzak said she could not have been Academic All-American in two sports without a great support staff.
"To say I'm one of the few people to get Academic All-American in two sports is really a great feeling and accomplishment," she said. "I couldn't have done it without my friends and my family and teammates and all the different coaches I had at Thiel."