Nov. 1, 2012
Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –
In this age of the Internet, Twitter and other forms of immediate information sharing it’s almost impossible to sneak up on your competition, especially in the ACC.
Yet Georgia Tech’s middle blocker Annie Czarnecki has managed to do just that and then some in her senior season.
“If you asked anybody in the conference who Annie Czarnecki was they would tell you they didn’t know up until this year,” said Head Coach Tonya Johnson. “So I certainly think she’s made a statement for herself. She’s top-five, top-six hitting percentage in the conference and she’s top-six blocking in the conference. I think she has certainly made a name for herself.
“There’s something to be said about a kid who has played maybe six or eight matches in three years then to start every match her senior year,” Johnson continued. “So I’m proud of her for the work that she’s put in and the patience that she’s had. She’s just one of those kids that when she got the opportunity she seized the opportunity and took advantage of it.”
And she’s taken advantage of the opposition. The senior from Bettendorf, Iowa heads into tonight’s match in Charlottesville against the University of Virginia (a 7:00 p.m. start) averaging 1.13 blocks per set and a .389 hitting percentage. She not only leads the Yellow Jackets in both categories but ranks in the top 10 in the ACC in both — fifth in blocks and fourth in hitting percentage (17th in the nation).
“I try to keep a good balance between both offense and defense so it’s good to be able to have a presence in both of those areas,” said Czarnecki. “If I’m not doing well in one trying to make up in the other one. So it’s good to have that balance overall.”
Her balanced attack has made Czarnecki a threat on either side of the net.
She credits Tech’s game plan, which has allowed her to be more aggressive.
“We’ve been focusing on getting my position a little more involved in our offense,” she said. “So that’s really fun for me to take part in that and it just makes us more effective overall.”
Czarnecki’s success as a senior is a nice story, but doing so after having played a total of 11 sets over her first three years on the team — none last year — and totaling two kills and two blocks entering her senior season makes the story as improbable.
Of course, it’s also earned. There was no magic wand. Czarnecki stayed patient, never quit and kept working hard.
“She’s a kid that comes in and works hard every day and gives it her all every day,” said Johnson. “When she got an opportunity to start, she held onto that spot and she hasn’t let up. When she makes a mistake she looks you in the eye and takes the feedback and goes on to the next play. She does a great job of just playing in the present and flushing her mistakes and moving on.”
“She’s always looking for ways to improve,” Johnson added. “She spends a lot of time watching film and doing extra reps. She wants to be successful and she wants to put herself in a position to do that. She’s certainly done that this year.”
“She is probably the hardest-working person that I know,” added junior setter Kaleigh Colson. “She is so passionate and I think that has contributed greatly to how great she’s been doing. She is not one to take her opportunities for granted. She cherishes every moment that she’s on the court and I think that is a huge reason as to why she’s doing so well.
“I am so proud of her,” Colson added. “After seeing her for three years do extra workouts, extra reps and just bust her butt to get on the court and for her senior year to be able to go out playing phenomenal the entire season and helping lead this team is a great sight to see. I’m thrilled for her.”
Czarnecki has provided several thrills this season, coming up biggest in two of Tech’s biggest matches of the season, against nationally ranked Florida State and Miami. Against the 12th-ranked, and ACC-leading Seminoles, she had 11 kills, hit at a team-best 33.3 percent and recorded a team-best eight blocks. Two nights later, against the No. 24 and ACC’s second-ranked Hurricanes, she tied Monique Mead for the team lead with 12 kills, hitting a blazing .435.
“It’s really fun, especially when we’re playing teams like that, it’s very important for us to have a spread out offense,” she said. “I know it’s important to take care of my role and to do that work so that other hitters have an opportunity to hit as well.”
When the Yellow Jackets take the floor tonight the Cavaliers will know where Czarnecki is. She played a key part in the Yellow Jackets sweep over UVA on Oct. 6 at O’Keefe Gym, when she had four kills (eight attack points) and seven blocks. She hopes to have similar success this time around as well as tomorrow night in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.
“We’ve been working on it in practice,” she said. “We’re scouting and watching film. So hopefully we’ll be able to come out and execute at that same level when we play. We have Virginia tomorrow and we’re coming out focused really hard on that, then moving onto Virginia Tech after that, we’re just going to have to go out there and compete. A lot of heart and a lot of effort. We going to be ready to play.”