Mitchell’s Zulkoski signs with EWC, looks to help rebuild program
     2014-11-27      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Terry Gaston/for the Citizen - Mitchell senior McKenna Zulkoski (seated at center) signs her national letter of intent to play volleyball at Eastern Wyoming College during a Nov. 20 ceremony in the Mitchell High School auditorium. Seated alongside Zulkoski are her parents, Matt (left) and Lanna Zulkoski, while standing behind them are EWC volleyball coach Julie Sherbeyn and Mitchell volleyball and track coach Michelle Peters. 
MITCHELLL — Mitchell senior McKenna Zulkoski will take the next step in her volleyball career after she signed her national letter of intent with Eastern Wyoming College during a Nov. 20 ceremony in the Mitchell High School gymnasium.
Although EWC is not far away from Mitchell, just across the state line in Torrington, Zulkoski is seen as a pioneer by both her high school and future college coaches.

With U.S. Highway 26 serving as a modern-day route between Mitchell and Torrington that also follows the historic Western Trails in western Nebraska up to Casper, Wyo., it is only fitting that a three-sport athlete such as Zulkoski would be asked to pave the way for EWC’s long-suffering volleyball program.

Lancers coach Julie Sherbeyn, whose first EWC team just completed a rough 6-31 season, has high hopes in using Zulkoski’s signing to draw additional young, hungry talent in her bid to return the program to its successes of winning six NJCAA Region IX championships between 1977 and 1998 and 13 conference titles.

“When I first met McKenna, I talked a lot to her about work ethic and what I was looking for in a player, the commitment that it would take to be a college athlete and the direction that I wanted to take our program,” Sherbeyn said.

“I got to come here and watch you play and you exhibited all that: You’re a mature player, you’re quick, you’re consistent and you were there for your team,” she added. “That’s what we need. We need that leadership and we need those people for whom team is of the utmost importance.

“So I am glad to have you as my first signee for the 2015-2016 season.”

Zulkoski, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter, was the Tigers’ team captain this fall and earned all-conference honors for the second straight year in both the Western Conference and Western Trails Conference.
“I’ve always wanted to take up to the next level at a college for volleyball,” Zulkoski said. “This year, Coach Peters approached me and told me that she thinks that I was good enough to go to the next level and play in college.

“It just so happened that the coach from the town right next to us came to watch a couple of the other girls on the team play. Afterward, I shook her hand and she told me I was on.”
Zulkoski led Mitchell to a 20-11 season record by scoring the Tigers’ digs with 495 and second in kills with 207 this fall. Zulkoski also led the Tigers in serve receptions with 471, shared team-high honors in serving aces with 40 and also had 22 solo blocks.

She set a school record for most digs in a match with 35 and completed her four-year letter-winning career with 823 digs, 342 service points, a 93 percent serving percentage and 86 ace serves.
“The last four years, she has been a huge part of our success in volleyball,” Mitchell volleyball and track coach Michelle Peters said of Zulkoski. “She was on the fourth straight Western Trails
Conference championship team and she has been starting since she was a sophomore as a vital part of the team.”

Zulkoski’s digging and receiving prowess has Sherbeyn planning on using her first signee as a defensive specialist.
“There are going to be some major changes in our squad coming next year, so it’s pretty much anybody’s game right now,” said Sherbeyn, a native of Valentine who coached for five years at Illinois Valley Community College before taking the EWC post.

Sherbeyn said Zulkoski’s mindset as a team-first player is key in her quest of rebuilding the Lancers, who had five sophomores and seven freshmen on this fall’s roster.
“I’m looking to recruit pretty much a whole roster for next year,” she said. “McKenna’s got a great jump and she’s a great outside hitter at this level, but I’m probably going to move her into the defensive spot. Coach Peters does such a good job of preparing her and her whole team. I think this is just going to go up and up for you as well.”

With her immediate college athletic career signed in ink, Zulkoski’s sporting attention will turn to basketball.
“My goals have not changed,” she said in looking to fuel the Tigers to a third straight WTC Tournament championship. “I know the team wants to go to state and so that’s what we’re going to do. My thoughts about basketball haven’t changed; I love the sport too. So how the team and I came out in volleyball is how we’re going to come out in basketball.”

Zulkoski, who wants to prepare academically at EWC for a nursing career, scored 150 points, grabbed 111 rebounds, made 73 assists and tallied 63 steals for the 18-6 Tigers last season.
She is a two-year letter winner in basketball and a three-year letter winner in track, serving as team captain the past two seasons while qualifying for the Best of the West all-star meet three times in the sprints.

“I love doing basketball and track too, but I’ve always pushed myself more toward volleyball,” Zulkoski said. “It’s my favorite sport.”
Peters looks at Zulkoski’s legacy at Mitchell as that of a pioneer on the Western trails.

“With her you have leadership, you have self-motivation as well as motivating our younger athletes,” Peters said. “McKenna, being a three-sport athlete, has kind of changed the culture of our younger kids, with more of them wanting to be three-sport athletes. That has been another valuable characteristic of McKenna’s overall personality and demeanor.

“I think she’s going to find success at the next level. She’s the type of kid who will run through a brick wall for you. She’s one of those athletes I think you’re going to see her finish as an athlete and finish hard. We’ll miss her.”

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