Severna Park's Kasprzak is a big hit on volleyball court


It took less than a minute for Julie Kasprzak to set the tone for last Tuesday's volleyball match at Glen Burnie. That's the usual amount of time whenever the Severna Park senior is on the court.

With the opposition's Heather Hutson serving to begin the first game, Kasprzak unleashed a vicious spike that was impossible to see, let alone return. Then, she gave Severna Park a 1-0 lead with her second kill in two chances, pounding the ball over the net so that it bounced off floor with a resounding thud.

Later in the game, a Kasprzak kill returned service to the Falcons with her team ahead, 8-2. Then came four straight kills from the 5-foot-9 outside hitter -- two with tremendous velocity and two that barely made a sound when they landed.

By then the Gophers, who were unbeaten and ranked No. 9 coming into the match, were out of sync, not knowing where the ball was going or at what speed. And No. 2 Severna Park was on its way to a sweep.

"[Setter] Susan Wren has been real good at knowing that if Julie can get into the game early, it makes it that much more difficult for teams to stop her," Severna Park coach Tim Dunbar said. "With two kills on the first two plays, the defense has to focus on her, and that opens up other things."

A chance to become a full-time starter didn't open for Kasprzak, 17, until the third match last season, against Broadneck. As a freshman, she played sparingly on the junior varsity, and as a sophomore, the late arrival of 5-9 outside hitter April Kaiser -- a transfer from Missouri who later became The Baltimore Sun's Player of the Year -- eliminated Kasprzak's shot of starting on the varsity.

When the opportunity finally came during her junior year, she took advantage, though not without anxious moments. Severna Park was crushed, 15-0, in the first game against Broadneck, before recovering to win the next three.

"It was really upsetting at first," she said. "I was starting, and we were losing. I was like, 'Oh great, what's this going to mean?' "

It meant Kasprzak would lead Severna Park's comeback with 10 kills and 15-for-16 serving with two aces.

"When I had scouted Broadneck, I noticed a weakness in their defense that I thought she could exploit," Dunbar said. "On their rotation pattern, their setter would be in the front row, and she was real short, like 5-3 or 5-4. I knew there was no way she could block Julie if she hit it down line, instead of cross-court. It was like a free open hit. She played so well that I couldn't move her out of the lineup."

Kasprzak finished the year as Severna Park's leader in kills with 158, including 15 in a five-game victory over Northern-Calvert in the 4A state finals, and was chosen first-team All-County. And she did this while working in a supporting role because of the presence of seniors Catherine Kirk (142 kills), Kate Marks and setter Jaime Pirotte, and junior Jen Conner (100 kills).

"In the state finals, I had friends come to the match who had never watched volleyball," Dunbar said. "They asked me who they should be watching, and I named a couple of the girls. Afterward, everyone of them said our best athlete was No. 11 [Kasprzak], and I didn't even mention her."

Kasprzak, who moved to Severna Park from Toledo before the eighth grade, said she grew frustrated from a lack of playing time until last season, but it didn't have an adverse effect on her.

"It was tough, but I understood that I had to pay my dues sitting on the bench," she said. "I just kept on pushing myself to work hard. I knew if I worked my hardest, I'd improve and show Mr. Dunbar that I could play, that he could count on me."

An accomplished swimmer in Ohio, Kasprzak decided to take up volleyball so she could meet more people within the school and avoid competing against friends. She also had four cousins who played the sport, further piquing her interest.

Now, she's a potential Division I player and a starter on the Capital club volleyball team, which includes the top four high school leaders in kill average in the metro area. "I really was unsure about going out for the [Severna Park] team," she said. "I went back home that first summer and visited my aunt, and she told me to try out. She said, 'What have you got to lose?' "

In Saturday's North Caroline Tournament, Kasprzak had 57 kills and was 71-for-76 serving with 16 aces. For the season, she has 116 kills in 205 attempts and is 132 for 141 (93.6 percent) serving with 30 aces, as the Falcons seek their third consecutive state championship.

These are numbers of a superstar, but what's missing is the attitude to match. Arrive early for a Severna Park practice, and you might see Kasprzak helping to set up the net. She has emerged as a team leader, but says that comes from being a senior, and she gladly shares the role with players like Wren and Conner.

"She's definitely not a prima donna. It's a coach's dream," Dunbar said. "The kids depend on her, and she comes through time and time again."

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