Panther Profiles: Unlikely Path Leads Kolinske To Volleyball Stardom
Sept. 25, 2012
MILWAUKEE - In high school, the sports focus for Julie Kolinske was mainly on basketball.
Then, a torn ACL put the Waukesha Catholic Memorial grad on her way to becoming one of the best volleyball players in the Horizon League.
It's been a long road back from that injury, but three years later Kolinske is healthy and on top of her game.
Kolinske's college volleyball story begins the summer prior to her senior year of high school. She was ready to be captain of the Catholic Memorial basketball team, but tore her ACL playing basketball that summer. The injury effectively ended her thoughts of playing hoops in college, and her attention turned to volleyball.
She was a standout volleyball player in high school, too, so Kolinske wasn't starting from scratch. But she never played club volleyball, the traditional path to being noticed by college coaches. Then, the knee injury would keep her from playing volleyball as a high school senior, and there wasn't much chance she'd be heavily recruited.
Milwaukee head coach Susie Johnson knew all about Kolinske, though, and was determined to give her an opportunity. Ted Schulte, the varsity coach at Catholic Memorial, had been telling Johnson about Kolinske and her volleyball potential for some time. The injury may have kept Johnson and her coaches from watching Kolinske in person, but they were still happy to have her walk-on to the team.
"We were very well-aware of Julie, but it was a bummer for her that she got injured at such a bad time," Johnson said. "But the reality is it all worked out for her and for us. That is how we get special players sometimes."
"Susie had talked to me about trying to walk-on and it looked like a great opportunity to me. I knew I wanted to play college sports and I'm really glad I made this decision," Kolinske said. "I never played club and I was definitely more basketball-driven in high school, but would think about the possibility of playing volleyball. But, especially after the injury, this was a great way to continue and I'm really glad it worked out this way."
The transition from basketball to volleyball was only the start for Kolinske, who still had to rehab her knee and get back into the sport. While she stayed active in competitive leagues and on the beach, it was a matter of years, not months, before Kolinske would truly get back into team volleyball. She sat out that senior year of high school and redshirted her first season at UWM. She played some a season ago and now has emerged as an every-set player this season.
"That was something definitely to get used to, getting more sets and working out of system and against a tough block," Kolinske said. "But it is something you get used to and I'm actually really enjoying getting more opportunities."
It wasn't an easy path, but now there's a happy ending to the long and winding road. Along the way, there were definitely times Kolinske was left wondering if she would ever be able to play injury-free.
"That was rough," Kolinske said. "I was thinking about it this year during preseason, how lucky I am not to have an injury and not to have to worry about that. It's always a concern to keep healthy and I think I've been better prepared this year. Sometimes you can't avoid injuries but we do look for ways to stay away from that."
The best development for Kolinske while coming back from injury likely came as a true freshman, when she redshirted and collected plenty of lessons.
"Redshirting was a great decision. I'm really happy with it," Kolinske said. "I took a while off after my ACL surgery and I learned a lot. You see how hard everyone has to work on every play and you learn way more sitting out because you see that. You see the drive that our players have and seeing that first hand and then getting to do it myself is a great way to learn to go hard every day."
Last year, Kolinske played some early in the season before emerging late in the year, showing the brilliance Johnson and her staff always knew Kolinske was capable of. She claimed a spot on the Horizon League All-Tournament team as the Panthers win the title. This year she has emerged as UWM's best all-around player.
"She has worked tirelessly in the summers and in the off-season developing her strength, her speed and her game," Johnson said of Kolinske, who was originally a middle hitter before moving outside. "She has played in a ton of leagues, she has been competing and working very hard. I'm proud of Julie and am really impressed with how well she has done as an outside. She has really matured and she is very willing to take on the task of leading this team through her play."
Kolinske also credits her support system for getting her to this point, and notes being close to her very large family is another benefit of playing at UWM. She is the youngest of six kids and her family is always around, helping provide encouragement and advice.
"They have been there after any match or game I can remember," Kolinske said, adding most of the volleyball advice comes from her brother, Billy. "After the locker room, I always get a little bit of a talk and then there's my mom on the side, who is always telling me how great I did even though sometimes I didn't. I get both sides and it is great to have that reinforcement off the court from family."
Through it all, Kolinske has become a true all-around player.
"Julie has really developed her entire game," Johnson said. "She is a six-rotation player now and she has developed her defense, her back-row attack, her passing and her block."
"Especially with my passing, there is more of a feeling of relaxation and more of a flow between Anna (Bartz) and I," Kolinske said. "Passing comes first. We can't do anything if the passing isn't there and that's really coming together. I'm getting way more comfortable there."
Johnson couldn't be happier to have a happy and healthy Kolinske as part of the Panther roster.
"She is a wonderful player for us. She has been pushed and she has been challenged and really come through for us."