Tonawanda News — Kelsey Kobza is a thinker.
She’s fascinated with how the mind works and how people react to stress. So much so that she wants to be a psychiatrist some day to try and “help people work through their issues with everything and stay positive.”
Her mind is probably what makes her a successful setter for Cardinal O’Hara. It’s what allowed her to deal with the pressures and sacrifices of competitive dancing since the age of 3. And when her father died of cancer her freshman year, her mind allowed her to turn sadness into motivation.
“It was kind of difficult for me when my father passed away,” Kobza said about her toughest off-the-court challenge. “He got cancer and it spread really fast. I definitely wish he could be here to cheer me on and see me play.”
O’Hara coach Brad Lorich has watched Kobza grow from a young player with tons of potential into the unquestioned leader of his Hawks team. He said he thinks losing her father has given her strength she may never have known she had.
“It’s kind of how she’s able to hold everything together,” Lorich said. “She’s seen the worst and when she sees things going bad in a stupid little game — the little stuff doesn’t affect her. I think that volleyball has given her an outlet and given her a chance where she can shine and fit in with a group.”
Kobza wasn’t always destined to be a volleyball star. In fact, up until the start of her junior year she was a dedicated competitive dancer. She was required to practice three days a week and had tournaments on weekends.
Dance was so grueling that Kobza wasn’t allowed to miss practice or even tell her dance coach that she played another sport.
Lorich knew he had a budding force in Kobza but knew she didn’t have enough time available for volleyball while stuck in a demanding dance schedule — time she needed to develop.
“She was quick, smart, paid attention, worked hard, but I couldn’t have her as a core player as a sophomore because she was only there half the time,” Lorich said. “It was kind of like I had this great talent on the bench and I really couldn’t use her. I think she got tired of dancing and started liking volleyball more.”
Kobza stopped dancing at the beginning of her junior year to focus solely on volleyball. She played club in the off-season and that’s where she started to shine as a setter.
Lorich said it makes perfect sense she would wind up playing the “quarterback” role on the court. He said she’s the hardest worker on the team and is always trying to motivate her teammates.
“The setter is the decision maker and in volleyball everything happens in a split second,” Lorich said. “You have to make the right decision instantly and by instinct, training and knowing what to do. Her smarts definitely help her with that.
Kobza is a rare high school student off the court, according to Lorich. Her academic average is somewhere in the mid-90’s and she just missed out on the National Honors Society this year.
Everyone is equal in Kobza’s eyes and that’s how she treats people. Lorich said it’s his favorite part about her — the way she embraces everyone instead of focusing on a group of girls.
That mentality has earned her teammates’ respect and that’s why she was named captain.
“I’m really easy going and I like to joke around and have a good time,” Kobza said. “I try to be funny and not be too serious all the time. I really like the team atmosphere and how it’s not a one-person game. Everybody can help everybody out and it’s fast-paced. It can be a lot of fun once it gets moving.”
Lorich has never had a player like Kobza and he’s excited to see what happens in her final season.
“I’ve been coaching here for five years and I don’t really have a lot of great stories like this, where (a player) sort of comes from nothing and really works them self up,” he said. “She’s not huge or the strongest player and she doesn’t come from a volleyball family. She just decided she liked it and put more time into it than anybody else. It’s cool
to see.”Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda Sports on Twitter: @tonanewsports