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PAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK ZAVATCHEN KEEPS BISON ROLLING ALONG
Sept. 20 - BETHANY, W.Va. – An already big season so far continues to grow for Bethany College junior Jessica Zavatchen (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands), who was named the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) Volleyball Player of the Week for Sept. 19th.
The honor comes after Zavatchen led the undefeated Bison (13-0, 4-0 in the PAC) to three more conference victories last week. It started with 39 assists in a four-set triumph at Grove City Sept. 14 and continued with a huge performance at a tri-match at home. In BC’s 3-2 victory over Thiel, the team’s first over the Tomcats since 2006, Zavatchen passed out 61 assists, one off her career-high, and added 15 digs.
The final match of the day was a rematch of the ECAC South Region Tournament final last year between the Bison and Saint Vincent. Bethany, making its first postseason appearance in school history, won that 3-0 and although Saturday went a little longer, the result was the same, as a 15-8 score in the deciding set gave the Green and White a 3-2 win. Zavatchen was spectacular in the win, sending out 54 assists and bringing up a career-best 22 digs.
According to head coach Courtney Kline, who is in her fifth season at the helm of the Bison, Zavatchen’s overall play sparked the big weekend.
“I thought our team took a while to wake up at Grove City, but Jess played solid and helped us pull it all together for the win,” said Kline. “But this weekend I would have to say is the best I’ve seen her play. She did a great job running the offense, distributing the ball and she’s been working on speeding up the offense as well. And it’s not just in her setting but also her play defensively. She made a lot of plays to keep balls in play and we won a lot of those rallies.”
Conference awards are nothing new to Zavatchen, who has was the league’s Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-PAC in 2009 and earned Honorable Mention All-PAC last year. In addition, she’s now won Player of the Week distinction once every year since her freshman season. However, Zavatchen, whose main concern in the stat category is the team’s win-loss record, said this week was a bit of a surprise, partially due to senior teammate Carrie Talkington (Moundsville, W.Va./John Marshall) earning the honor last week.
“I was kind of surprised to win it because I wasn’t sure Bethany would get two in a row after Carrie won last week,” said Zavatchen. “I don’t really look at stats because my main concern is whether we won or lost, but after coach told me I won (Player of the Week), then I looked at the stats and I guess it made sense.”
With the numbers Zavatchen has put up in just over two years on the court at Bethany, it’s not hard to see why she gets the recognition she does. As a freshman, she broke the school’s single-season assist record. Then last year, she smashed her own record with 1,392 assists, bettering her previous standard by more than 400. The career assists record was well within reach coming into the season and Zavatchen wasted little time in rewriting it. She totaled 46 assists in a 3-2 win over DePauw (Ind.) University Sept. 10 to break the all-time mark of 2,635 held by Acacia Iwaniec (1998-01) and she currently has 2,884.
Zavatchen, who just as talented in the classroom with a 4.0 GPA as a pre-physical therapy major, is quick to point to the players around her for the records she has set.
“A lot of credit needs to go to my teammates,” said Zavatchen. “Everyone works really hard in the offseason and comes into the season better prepared. On the court, our defense has really improved since my freshman year and so has our hitting. And everyone playing together more as a team helps everyone’s stats.”
Another key to Zavatchen’s and the Bison’s success this season is a quicker tempo on offense, which starts with more jump sets from the BC setter. It’s something that Kline has wanted her to do for awhile, but the Bethany coach exercised patience while Zavatchen developed over the last couple years.
“We’ve been pushing for Jess to do it for awhile,” said Kline. “She grew more comfortable during her freshman year and it improved last year, but now I feel like we’re almost there. With all of our hitters running our plays, it’s made our offense very hard to read and we’re very consistent in our attack. That’s shown in a higher hitting percentage (.296, best in the PAC) than we’ve had here.”
With the Bison coming off an ECAC title last fall and off to a 13-0 start, the best in school history, it’s hard to believe where the program stood just after Kline took the reins. In 2008, a very young BC team won just five matches. But having Zavatchen, who started all four years at Laurel Highlands and led the Mustangs to a runner-up finish in the WPIAL and a berth in the PIAA Tournament, lead a talented class to join the ’08 freshman class led to an immediate turnaround in the program’s fortunes.
In 2009, Bethany had a big turnaround, improving to 16-15, the program’s first winning season since 2001. Then came last year’s 24-13 finish and ECAC title, which served as a springboard to this season, as the Bison are one of only 14 undefeated teams left in Division III. Coming to a five-win team, Zavatchen expected the rebuilding to take a little longer than it has.
“Coming in my freshman year, I thought it would be more of a process,” said Zavatchen. “I didn’t think we’d get to .500 right away, but was pleasantly surprised by how quickly we came together to have the year we did and keep building from there.”
The unbeaten start is certainly generating a lot of buzz on campus and beyond, and one of the challenges that can come from this type of success is the tendency to look past opponents and to future big matches. This week brings one of the challenges, as Bethany goes on the road to play at Franciscan Wednesday night, but has a big match-up at Westminster, who made the PAC Tournament semifinals last year. However, Zavatchen understands one of her roles as a captain is to help Kline keep the team focused on the present.
“We know that any team can be beaten any day,” said Zavatchen. “Each team keeps working hard in practice and getting better, so we know we have to stay focused and keep working if we want to stay ahead of them. We do not want go into each game thinking about our record. Our focus going into a match is we have to win that day.”