In the modern world of college athletics, seasons may officially end, but most athletes continue to devote lots of time to their sport on a year-round basis. Many have team commitments during the off-season, even at the small college level.
A case in point is Elmhurst College junior Sam Szarmach of St. Charles, a member of the Bluejays’ women's volleyball team. Her season officially came to an end in mid-November, but the St. Charles East grad will be back on the court soon.
“Our team’s playing in Costa Rica over Christmas break,” Szarmach said. “We’re just doing a lot of service work and tourist-type things, so that will be fun.”
Szarmach and her teammates are looking forward to the trip.
“I haven’t been to Costa Rica before. A lot of teams in college are doing this type of thing and they enjoy it,” she said. “We’re all pretty excited.”
While a trip to a tropical destination in the middle of winter may sound more like a vacation than work, rest assured the Elmhurst team takes getting prepared for the next official season seriously.
“We’ll be starting our workouts in January,” Szarmach said. “Then we have a lot of open gyms and such until our spring season.”
The team will participate in various tournaments during the spring. And while the Bluejays won’t be together over the summer, Szarmach will continue to work on improving her game at the ProForce Sports Performance Training center in Batavia.
“They really do a great job with me getting me prepared for the season,” Szarmach said. “We do a lot of weight training.”
Szarmach says the ProForce staff also works with her on quickness and skills specific to volleyball.
The hard work Szarmach has put in has paid dividends. She recently received honorable mention All-American recognition for her performance this year.
“Obviously, it was exciting,” she said of the honor. “But it can’t look past what happened this season. It didn’t end in the way we wanted. That kind of took away from the excitement.”
The Bluejays lost in an NCAA Division III Regional final to second-ranked Hope College (32-2) three games to one after winning the first game, 26-24. Szarmach, a 5-11 outside hitter, had back-to-back kills to close out the set.
Elmhurst finished the season with a 37-5 record and won the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin tournament after going undefeated in league play during the regular season. Szarmach was first on the team in kills with 433, averaging three per set. She ranked second on the squad in digs with 310. Her performance earned her first-team all-conference recognition.
The Bluejays lose six seniors to graduation, including setter Katie Rueffer of Batavia, who had 360 assists this season.
Szarmach says she’s already thought about the impact the absence of those seniors will have on the team next season.
“Initially, I was just kind of like nervous because I’ve been playing with them since I’ve been at Elmhurst,” she said. “Playing without them will be difficult because we’ve got a lot of shoes to fill.”
But Szarmach says she’s confident the coaching staff will find the right players to fill the openings.
Thinking about next year also means Szarmach – an international business major – has to think about life after Elmhurst.
“I’m on track to graduate early, but I think I’m going to stay another semester so I can do an internship,” she said. “I have a few options right now that I’m thinking about.”
She’s looking at going to graduate school, probably somewhere in Chicago, but she hasn’t ruled out continuing her volleyball career.
“My assistant coach at Elmhurst went to a program overseas where she was able to to get her master’s on a fast track and play volleyball,” Szarmach said.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To suggest local college athletes deserving of recognition, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.