By: Camila Stupecka
Born and raised in Hamilton, fourth-year outside hitter Joanna Jedrzejewska shines on the court with her motivating attitude and impressive volleyball skill. But like anything, the spark has to start somewhere small.
Jedrzejewska, along with her brother, fourth-year libero Pawel, have always played competitively in a variety of sports. Her passion for volleyball was first inspired by watching her older brother, Marcin.
“We would go to Marcin’s practices in our spare time and just watch,” Jedrzejewska said. “When they would go for water breaks, Pawel and I would play on the side. We admired the athleticism it took to play volleyball.”
At the age of 13, Jedrzejewska started playing in competitive leagues, taking her passion for the sport and putting it into practice. Living with her three brothers, who all played volleyball, gave her the competitive edge and the mental toughness she needed to excel in these leagues. As the years went on, her passion grew into a serious interest. Shortly after, McMaster became her next goal.
Jedrzejewska’s mission began with a message sent to head coach Tim Louks, asking about a position on the team. Unfortunately, the team was full and they weren’t looking for any more players. Louks still went out to see her on the court and was happily surprised. He saw the potential in her and granted Jedrzejewska a spot on the team. But that didn’t mean the fight was over quite yet.
Her 5’7″ height, which may be seen as a disadvantage to some volleyball players, only motivated her to work harder.
“The transition was hard because I was so used to starting on a competitive team and when I came to [McMaster], I was sitting on the bench pretty much my whole first season,” Jedrzejewska said. “[Even when head coach] Tim Louks would put me in, I was like ‘okay, this is my moment, if I want to start I have play well now.’ But for ten games in a row I would play really poorly and I would be taken off right away.”
The disappointment she felt after every game, knowing that she hadn’t been able to contribute to her team’s win, pushed her to keep working. Her 5’7” height, which may be seen as a disadvantage to some volleyball players only motivated her to work even harder, causing her to become one of the highest jumpers on the team.
“I had to earn my spot.” Jedrzejewska said. And she did.
It was the last home game of the season against the best team in the league at the time, the University of Ottawa. The Marauders were down two sets. For the first time since her start with the team, Jedrzejewska went in and played one of the best games of her life.
“I was getting all my kills, I was really efficient,” Jedrzejewska said. “And we ended up beating them three [sets] to two. And this was the number one team in Ontario at the time. I had proved myself.”
Since then, Jedrzejewska has shone on the court as a spectacular volleyball player and a positive leader for her teammates, even in challenging circumstances such as playing all of this season with a torn labrum. Rather than dwelling on misfortune, she has put her injury to good use.
“It taught me to fight through the pain,” she said. “And because I couldn’t hit as hard as I used to, it improved my mental IQ.”
“You have to make do with what you’ve got. In volleyball, in my position, you’re usually pretty tall. And I’m 5’ 7” and a half so it will be pretty tough to find someone who can give me a chance [at professional volleyball]. Tim gave me that chance and I proved myself. I just need someone to believe in me.”
Her mentality in overcoming challenges continues to make her resilient in the face of adversity, allowing her to use what she has to the best of her ability both on and off the court.
“It doesn’t matter about the size of the player in the game, but the game in the player,” said Jedrzejewska. “And my heart makes up for [the limitations]. I don’t give up.”