ARLINGTON, Va. - Tomasz Ksiazkiewicz grew up in Poland playing youth hockey at a high level. He played on a youth team that travelled around Europe, and some of those teammates are now on the Polish national team.
But Ksiazkiewicz, a native of Krakow, had to give up the sport when he moved to the Chicago area to live with his father when he was 14.
"My dad was not willing to give up the time, money and effort for me to play hockey," said Ksiazkiewicz, whose mother is also Polish and lives in London. "It is an expensive sport. It was hard, it was definitely hard" to give up.
While the door closed on one sport it opened for another.
He played American football as a freshman at Maine West High School near Chicago. That spring he tried out for the volleyball team at the school, and he learned the game quickly even though he played two years at the junior varsity level.
After four years of high school volleyball, Ksiazkiewicz enrolled as a freshman in 2013 at Marymount, where last year he became the program's first AVCA All-American as a junior middle blocker. The native of Poland was also an All-Continental Volleyball Conference performer for the Saints.
MU was 19-11 overall last season and 9-3 in conference play behind Ksiazkiewicz, who helped get the program off the ground as a freshman. Last season, he played in 28 of 30 matches and was second on the team with 3.2 points per set with 2.4 kills per set.
"He is a huge presence of a man at 250 pounds," said Hudson Bates, the Saints head coach in his fourth season. "He is like a quiet leader but he leads in his own style. We have other guys who can lead … Tomasz is a leader by example."
When he was named an All-American last season the 6-foot-6 Ksiazkiewicz gathered his teammates to share the good news with them. This year he wants to repeat but also hopes another MU player can join him as an All-American, while he also hopes to be part of a conference champion with national aspirations.
Success certainly didn't come easy in volleyball for Ksiazkiewicz, 21, who is paying his own way through college after he did not qualify for any Division I scholarships in the sport.
He didn't play club volleyball until after his spring season as a high school senior.
"I decided to make a highlight tape before I graduated," he said.
Ksiazkiewicz played for his club team in a tournament in California, as well as some local events. His club coach in the Chicago area had been teammates on a semi-pro team with Bates, a 2008 graduate of George Mason University.
The first season for him at MU was challenging as he had to play several positions with a new team.
"The start was very rough. I was playing every position possible. I was in shock learning all of these things," he said.
It was last season that he was able to focus on being a middle blocker, the position he came here to play.
"When I decided to go Division III, I was more focused on the school; I went for the education," said Ksiazkiewicz, on track to graduate in the spring as a Cybersecurity and Networking major.
He hopes to work in the security industry once he graduates.
"I really like the location. It is 10 to 15 minutes downtown (to Washington). I really like where I am; I like being exposed to different cultures," he said. "I like the fast-paced environment."
That approach certainly works as well on the court for the Saints.
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