By Joshua Fitch
After almost four years as a middle-hitter for the Youngstown State University volleyball team, senior Sarah Varcolla has just three matches left in her career.
Volleyball has been in Varcolla’s life for 11 years, and through the sport she has made many memories. One of her earliest memories of volleyball though, has stuck with her through the years.
“I remember because I was in fifth grade trying out for a first club team and they cut me,” Varcolla said with a chuckle. “So then I started school volleyball in sixth grade. But when I first tried it, I got cut.”
That would be the first and the last time.
Varcolla grew up in New Philadelphia, Ohio, and attended Tuscarawas Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School where she earned four letters and was named co-captain as a senior, while leading the Saints to district title matches for four consecutive years. Varcolla was a first-team all-conference selection in track and field as well.
This was also an important time for Varcolla because she began thinking of the future and figuring out where she wanted to take her volleyball career next. Finding somewhere that would offer her an athletic scholarship was key.
“When I first got to high school, I knew I wanted to continue to play volleyball in college so while looking for school, it was a main thing I was looking at,” Varcolla said. “Actually, Youngstown wasn’t my first decision. I had to come back a couple of times. So, I came back for another visit and watched a game and it really set it that I belong here.”
Varcolla proved that she belonged on the court. In 2017, she received the program’s Best Offensive Player Award after playing in all 106 sets of the season and being the only player on the team to start all 30 matches. She was also one of only two players ranked in the top eight in the Horizon League in blocks per set (1.14) and aces per set (0.27). This season, as the stats continue to pile up, Varcolla’s main focus is being a leader for such a young team.
“I definitely do,” Varcolla said when asked if she considers herself a strong leader. “Especially because last year and this year I was voted team captain, which I find a great honor. I try to always be a help to them and just be that leader instead of bossing them around. I want to be their teammate first. It’s a fine line. Before you can lead anyone, you need to gain their respect first.”
Being a leader is very important on a team that has five total freshmen. Even though she’ll be gone after 2018, it’s what Varcolla wants to leave with the program and is why she was named team captain more than once.
“Everyone’s starting to learn and get to know each other and how to play with each other,” she said. “It’s all just meshing together. I know what I want to leave here is that a new culture here is to give it all you got, and that’s what I hope to leave here.”
As it stands now, the Penguins are 7-18 on the season and in a tough spot to make the Horizon League volleyball tournament beginning in mid-November. However, with three games left in the regular season, leave it to a leader to keep believing.
“Honestly, I really do think we can,” Varcolla said. “We just need to go out there and believe in our game plan that our coaches set for us. Believe in each other that we can do this.”
Varcolla also said her head coach, Aline Scott, has been very influential to the entire team, despite this being her first season as head coach at Youngstown State.
“She’s had our back since day one,” Varcolla said. “She decided to keep all of us. She took us as we were her own recruits. She really just pushes us to be the best that we can be, not only on the court, but off the court as well.”
The Penguins regular season will end on Nov. 10 with a match against Wright State University on the road. Whether the Penguins make it to the postseason will depend on what happens in the next three games. However, not only will a season eventually end, but so will a career.
“Our last four games all we can do is give it all we got and leave it all on the floor,” Varcolla said. “When our season is over, it’s over for me. I don’t plan on going overseas professionally, I plan to go into occupational therapy and private school for that.”
Varcolla will have plenty of time to reflect on her time at Youngstown State as a Penguin, but even before the season ends, Varcolla knows Youngstown, the city, the university and the people have set her up for success.
“It’s really meant the world. I really couldn’t see myself at any other university. From what I’ve learned just in the classroom, I think I’m prepared to face whatever is ahead of me,” she said.