Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, October 20, 2018

AU volleyball player steps up as senior leader

Julita Kurdziuk hopes to lead the team to another conference title

AU volleyball player steps up as senior leader

Julita Kurdziuk, center, is now the lone senior on the women's volleyball team, and hopes to lead the team to the NCAA tournament again this year.

In 2013, the women’s volleyball team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history. Now, three years later, as the lone senior on a team with seven new players and high expectations, Julita Kurdziuk will attempt to the lead her team to the NCAA tournament once again.

This year will present a new challenge for Kurdziuk and her volleyball team as they face the loss of five key seniors including 2015 Player and Setter of the Year Monika Smidova and 2015 Patriot League Volleyball Tournament MVP, Allison Cappellino.

But Cappellino, or Cappy as she was more affectionately called by her teammates during her time at AU, said she has full confidence in the team to carry on the legacy of success that is so rooted in the program.

“I would like the freshman to know that they are in good hands and to trust the returners,” Cappellino said when asked what she would like the freshman to know. “They are in good hands, especially with Julita, so they should buy into the system and listen to what Coach Goldberg teaches them.”

Throughout her college career so far, Kurdziuk has followed in the footsteps of seniors like Cappellino and Smidova, and she believes that the culture of teamwork and shared success they established has shaped her into a stronger, more confident leader.

“Last year we had five great seniors that were making things great. I learned from them to be passionate about volleyball, and be calm, and not worry about little things, and just to focus and get better,” Kurdziuk said. “I learned that I should help others, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pass on to the young people that they should not focus on just themselves, they should help the team and make sure that everyone, everyone, is doing okay. And helping each other with everything, and making sure that we’re all good.”

A native of Poland, Kurdziuk came to the United States four years ago as a freshman student at AU, facing the traditional adjustments of college while also trying to adapt to a new culture. Kurdziuk admits that the move wasn’t easy, but she feels comfortable at AU now, both on and off the court and believes that her experience will help the younger athletes as they also try to assimilate to a new environment.

“My strength is that I really like to welcome new people and make them feel comfortable around the team and myself,” Kurdziuk said. “I really like to talk to them, and I guess my experience is going to help a lot because whatever problems they are going to have, maybe I went through a situation like that and can help them.”

Kurdziuk, only a week into practice, described the experience of being the only senior as “interesting,” noting that the team is very much in the “getting to know each other” stage and working on coming together as a unit. A self-described “patient” leader, Kurdziuk said she strives to anchor the squad to more success as the season continues and capture another Patriot League Championship title.

Soft-spoken but enthusiastic about the game, Kurdziuk is quick to explain how the team’s goals supersede her personal goals. She has spent the first three years of her career in the shadows of Cappellino, Smidova, and her other older teammates, and, as a result, focuses on her areas of improvement rather than her own strengths. However, when asked about the one things she wants other students to know about AU volleyball, she immediately became excited.

“I would like them to know that we are very happy to have many people come cheer for us. And I would like them to know that volleyball is a really great sport and if they come, we are going to make sure that the game is going to be good,” Kurdziuk said. “So I would really like them to support us because we work really hard just to represent our American University.”

Kurdziuk and her teammates will have their first chance to play in front of a home crowd on Friday, August 27th when the team takes on Georgetown in the first game of the D.C. College Cup. The following day, the Eagles will play the annual Bender Blue Out, an event expected to draw over 2,000 fans. The game will feature the University of Washington, an opponent that ended last year ranked No.1 in the nation and advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies will test the Eagles, a team hardly challenged inside the Patriot League. And for Kurdziuk, the game will be only her second home game as a senior in a season that she hopes plays out just like the last one.

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