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Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003

Familiarity helps men's volleyball team on road to final four

By Sheil Kapadia
Collegian Staff Writer

Penn State men's volleyball coach Mark Pavlik should have it easy this year.
With a veteran team that is returning 13 of its 15 players from last year's team, Pavlik said he is not concerned with motivation, leadership or team chemistry.
"These guys know each other," Pavlik said.
"We have a great group of seven or eight guys.
I don't think we'll come up short on leaders."
The team is returning three seniors and eight juniors from a season in which it made the final four before losing to Hawaii, the eventual champion, in the semifinals.
Overall, the team went 25-4 last year, including a 14-0 mark in the EIVA.
Senior opposite hitter Zeljko Koljesar looks for the team to build on last year's successes.
He said that the team will have to play a consistent brand of volleyball if it wants to get back to the final four this year.
Koljesar, an AVCA second-team All-American selection last year, will start at opposite hitter, where he performed well in the team's first two matches of the year.
He notched 18 and 14 kills against Hawaii and Ball State, respectively.
Penn State's starting lineup will also include senior Zach Slenker and junior Norm Keil, both as middle hitters.
Slenker, a co-captain along with Nate Matthews, finished last year as an AVCA second-team All-American and averaged a team-high 3.37 kills per game.
Primary libero Ricky Mattei and outside hitter Carlos Guerra will also return to the Nittany Lions' starting lineup.
Mattei joined the ranks of Koljesar and Slenker as AVCA second-team All-America selections last year.
Guerra played well during the team's march to the final four, as he was the only Lion to be named to the NCAA all-tournament team.
Perhaps the team's biggest question mark comes at setter, where the Lions lost three-time All-American Jose Quinones.
Quinones was EIVA player of the year last season, and he also finished his career as Penn State's all-time assist leader.
"Losing Jose presents a whole different set of challenges," Pavlik said.
Matthews will look to fill in the position at setter, where he played strong during the team's matches at the Outrigger Invitational.
He led the Lions with 43 assists in Penn State's loss against Ball State on Sunday.
Slenker said that Matthews is a different type of player than Quinones is, but that the team has confidence that he can fill in and play well just as the team's setter.
To post a similar record to the one last year, the No. 4 Lions will have to fprepare for a challenging schedule, which includes eight teams ranked in the top 15 in the season's first AVCA poll.
In February, the team hosts the Penn State Invitational, where it will take on Springfield, Rutgers-Newark, and No. 11 Lewis.
The team travels west for the first half of March, where it will take on No. 5 Brigham Young and then No. 9 Long Beach State.
After that it will take on the University of Southern California the following weekend at the Long Beach Invitational.
The team hopes to travel to Long Beach, Calif., again in May, where the NCAA final four will take place.



(Article is published in Centre Daily Times, Thursday, May 2, 2002)




Koljesar's kills adding up to Nittany Lion wins

By Gordon Brunskill

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Sometimes, life just makes random choices for you.

For Zeljko Koljesar, the only reason he had a finger pointed at him was because he was tall.

He was in about the fourth grade, sitting in his classroom in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, when a physical education teacher walked into the room and scoped out the children at theirdesks.He picked out about a half-dozen or so from the room, the tallest ones, and told them to show up after school.

The teacher was looking to fill up the volleyball program and he was choosing the likeliest of candidates.

"It happened out of the blue," Koljesar said. "I liked it and I ended up staying."

Because of that fickle finger of fate -- Koljesar also loved tennis and almost gave up volleyball in favor of the racket -- the 6-foot-5 Penn State junior will be taking his swings tonight in the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championships.

The Nittany Lions, appearing in their 17th tournament, face Hawai'i tonight in Game 2 of the national semifinals. Pepperdine and Ball State will meet in the first semifinal at 6 p.m.

While not the biggest hitter or team leader, Koljesar is one of the reasons the Lions are still playing tonight. He is second on the team in kills, averging 3.91 per game, is third in aces and is fourth in blocks. He also found out Wednesday he was named a Second Team All-American.

With leading spiker Carlos Guerra, Zach Slenker, also a second-team All-American, Norm Keil, Jason Hawkins and Koljesar, the Nittany Lions have the balance necessary to compete at this level.

"We want to make all nine meters of that net a threat," said Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik, who credits assistant coach Dennis Hohenshelt with finding this hidden jewel before everyone else.

Koljesar took a long and winding road to get to this stage.

Life was not too bad in Novi Sad, which is in the province of Vojvodina, a Serbian area northwest of the capital of Belgrade.

Actually, considering all of the tumult in the country in the last decade, Koljesar had it pretty good. He could have been stuck in the middle of a civil war as various factions struggled for power and various minority groups were being eliminated.

"It was totally the opposite side of the country," Koljesar said. "I wasn't scared. It wasn't that close."

Still, with the war came a crashing economy, embargos and little on store shelves.

"It was like living on another planet," he said.

There were the other hazards that come with a country in turmoil, too.

"There's all that corruption going on. The Police department, the mafia, whatever you want to call it, they're all connected. Crime's going on everywhere. There's nothing you can do about it because even the government's doing it."

So seven years ago his parents, wanting a better life for Zeljko and his sister, Gabrijela, decided to join family members in Kitchener, Ontario, which is about an hour west of Toronto.

He immediately hit the court and was playing club ball across the border in Rochester, N.Y., by the time he was in high school. During a tournament his junior year, Hohenshelt spotted the lanky left-hander and reported back to Pavlik.

"Dennis came back and said, 'There's a junior I think we should keep our eye on,'" recalled Pavlik.

Originally the school, one of only a few to offer him a scholarship, offered Koljesar only a partial deal, but later found enough money for a full ride.

Koljesar committed early -- much to Pavlik's later delight.

"That year he went to the junior national championships with his club team and they finished second," Pavlik said. "He was the talk of the tournament and everybody was asking, 'Where did this guy come from? Who is this?' We're sitting there in the stands smiling."

One of the reasons Koljesar chose Happy Valley was it, in some ways, reminded him of his old home.

"This area is really similar -- four seasons, warm summer, colder winters," he said. "I came to see the campus and I loved it right away."

His English also is impressive, with barely a hint of an accent.

"Watching TV helps a lot," said Koljesar, who learned English as a second language in Yugoslavia. "Volleyball does wonders for me. I'm meeting people, traveling, speaking, making friends."

Koljesar is now a Canadian citizen, it took three years to complete the paperwork, and he has some hopes of playing on the national team.

He has one more year at Penn State, after which he is still weighing options. He hopes to play overseas and make a living for a few years on the court before he has to step into the real world with a computer science degree.

Tonight, however, he is focused on Hawai'i, and Koljesar is one of the Nittany Lions' main weapons.

"Their opposite, Koljesar, is very efficient," said the Warriors' Dejan Miladinovic. "They can go off on any given night. It's going to be a task for the whole team to contain them for blockers as well as the defense in the back row."

And win or lose, a little over a week from now Koljesar and his family will be back in Novi Sad for the first time since they left.

"I keep thinking about walking down the street where I grew up and remember all the stuff I used to do," he said. "That's something I'm looking forward to doing after the Final Four."

It is the place where a random turn of fate turned him into a volleyball player.

#12 Zeljko Koljesar

Senior / Senior

2001 Asics/Volleyball Magazine honorable mention All-America
Two-time firse team All-EIVA conference selection
2001 EIVA All-tournament team
2000 EIVA Newcomer of the Year
2000 EIVA tournament Most Outstanding Player


Height: 6-5


Hometown: Kitchener, Ontario

High School: Forest Heights

Following a very successful freshman campaign, Zeljko Koljesar again made his mark on Penn State volleyball last season. A 2001 Asics/Volleyball Magazine honorable mention All-America honoree, Koljesar was second on the team in total attacks. A powerful left-handed opposite, he brings a consistent game to the floor.

Lion Career

2001 Season

Asics/Volleyball Magazine honorable mention All-America selection ... first team All-EIVA conference selection ... EIVA all-tournament team member ... second on the team in total attacks (753) and kills per game (3.70) ... also ranks third in digs with 1.32 per game ... hit double-digit kills in 23 of his 32 matches ... recorded season-high 19 kills four different times, including the opening match against Ohio State (1/13) ... tallied season-best hitting percentage of .619 (16-3-21) in three-game win at Springfield (2/17) ... notched four service aces on three separate occasions ... recorded 11 kills, nine digs and six blocks in four-game win at Concordia (4/7) ... finished season with 396 kills, 42 services aces, 141 digs and 59 total blocks.

2000 Season

EIVA Newcomer of the Year ... First Team All-EIVA conference selection and Most Outstanding Player ... held a .340 hitting percentage and an average of 4.39 kills per game ... contributed 1.56 digs per game ... finished with double-figure kills in 24 matches ... tallied 20-plus kills in six matches ... appeared in 30 matches, while making 28 starts ... ripped a season-high 30 kills, while hitting .415 at Rutgers-Newark (3/25) ... recorded season-best 13 digs vs. Ball State (2/19)...had season-high six blocks at Rutgers-Newark (3/25) ... posted 26 kills in first career start vs. Southern California (1/15) ... registered 25 kills at Loyola (Chi.) (2/25) ... finished with season-high three service winner vs. Southern California (1/15) and Juniata (2/4) ... totaled five blocks on three occasions ... hit over .300 in 16 matches this season ... finished with 17 kills, 10 digs and two aces, while hitting .429 in Penn State's 3-0 EIVA Championship match win over Concordia (4/29).


Led Forest Heights H.S. to four straight city championships and three consecutive regional championships...helped Forest Heights win the Ontario Province Champion-ship in 1996...named team captain during senior season.



Born October 4, 1980 in Kula, Yugoslavia...Has an older sister, Gabrijela...A Computer Science major,plans a career in computer programming and animation.

Coach's Quote:


"Zeljko is one of the most quietly intense competitors that I have had the pleasure of coaching. He has gained in strength and experience and he is poised for a very big year. He is not exceptionally vocal, but our fans will be able to tell when Z is on his game. He can establish himself as one of the best left-handed opposites in the NCAA this year. His blocking has improved and his defense is getting better. Z is one of the hardest working guys on the team."


Career Statistics









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