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College boosts star power

Alicja Pawelec, former Francis Lewis volleyball star, has hit her stride with Iona College and is making waves in the conference circuit. Photo courtesy
TimesLedger Newspapers

Stardom was never something Alicja Pawelec envisioned entering Iona College. The former Francis Lewis volleyball star joined the Gaels’ volleyball team as a walk-on, unsure what lay ahead.

“I didn’t think I would play at all,” she said.

That notion didn’t last long.

Pawelec, a junior and Glendale native, has turned herself into one of Iona’s top players and a potential all-conference selection. The former high school middle hitter was moved to the outside as a freshman after excelling at the position in the preseason. She beat out a senior for a starting job, has played in every match for Iona since and was an All-MAAC second team selection last year. Pawelec is currently the team’s captain and earned an athletic scholarship the second semester of her sophomore year.

“It was never guaranteed for me,” she said. “To know that working hard paid off like that really gave me an extra boost of confidence.”

It is that work ethic that impressed second-year Coach Jon Killingbeck. She watched her improve by not just trying to be a power hitter, but spread the ball around the court with varying degrees for force. Pawelec, who led Francis Lewis to three straight PSAL Class A city titles, has also developed into one of the Gaels’ top serves. She had 23 kills in a conference win over Manhattan last week and had 11 kills and three aces in a loss to Rutgers in late August.

“It’s really just allowed her to explode onto the scene,” Killingbeck said of her drive to improve.

That same ideal applies in the classroom. Pawelec majors in chemistry and is an honors student, which means she has extra required courses. Last year she took physics, calculus and organic chemistry, and this semester is taking on physical chemistry, biochemistry and computer science. It’s a load that gets overwhelming at times. Like everything else, Pawelec pushed through it and excelled to the tune of a 3.5 GPA.

“She should be an example of what the NCAA wants its student athletes to be,” Killingbeck said.

Pawelec and sophomore middle Cartina Warren have the Gaels primed to be one of the MAAC’s top teams and were already off to a 3-0 start in conference play as of last week. Iona has played a brutal non-league schedule, including a win over UConn and a trip to St. John’s last week. She feels like her team has talked enough about what it needs to do and now it’s time to make it happen.

“We have to push through and get those wins,” Pawelec said. “I think we definitely can do it.”

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