Sidelined by a bum knee just four matches into her senior season, it would have been easy to just call it quits and say she had one heck of a college career to look back on and be proud of.
Jaime Kosiorek, a 2014 Kenston graduate and first-team all-Ohioan, was in the best shape of her life and had just received the Ultimate Elite Athlete Award at the start of her senior volleyball campaign at Ohio University. The university’s prestigious strength and conditioning award, which was started in 2001, is based on strength, speed, agility and jump.
Each sports program at Ohio has a testing criteria and point scale, and the student-athlete who scores over a 90 percent in all four disciplines earns the title of Ultimate Elite Athlete. In August 2017, Kosiorek became just the 13th Bobcat athlete to earn the award in 17 years.
A 6-foot outside hitter at Ohio, it was no surprise Kosiorek scored off the charts with a 28-inch standing vertical jump and a 31 1/2-inch approach jump. But she also showed off her guns with 24 pull-ups as one of the disciplines during the strength portion of the testing.
“My body, physically, was in the best shape ever, and my body was strong and muscular and everything,” Kosiorek said. “And just to kind of see your muscles dwindle away so quickly, because of your injury, that was pretty taxing on my brain.”
Two days after earning the title of Ultimate Elite Athlete, Kosiorek tore her ACL just four matches into her senior season. The team captain had already racked up 47 kills, surpassing the 1,000-kill benchmark for her career, before her season, and possibly her career, came to a grinding halt.
That’s when it would have been easy to just call it quits. Her knee injury would take a year of intense physical therapy, and who knows if she’d be the same athlete when she returned for a redshirt senior year in the fall of 2018. She had to ask herself if the mental and physical burden for one more season was really worth it.
The what-if burden might have been greater. What if she didn’t come back to break the single-season ace record at Ohio University? And what if she didn’t come back to play a pro season overseas in Denmark, something she’d always wanted to do?
“It was tough, yes,” Kosiorek said. “I was able to see why some people come back successfully and why some people don’t. It’s all about your rehab. You kind of have to make the decision to do the little things every single day, and that rehab and the physical therapy is the make or break. And it’s tedious.
“You’re sitting there and just flexing your quad 15 times every couple hours. So, that part, I think, is grueling, just because it’s tedious and you’re literally trying to retrain your body to do this crazy sport.”
But that crazy sport was really all Kosiorek had ever known from a young age.
A four-year varsity starter and three-year team captain at Kenston, Kosiorek led the Lady Bombers to a 77-24 record with a 40-0 mark in the Chagrin Valley Conference, three district titles and a Division I state final-four berth during her tenure.
Kenston volleyball’s 120 consecutive wins in the CVC, from 2002 to 2014, is the third longest steak in Ohio. Kosiorek was a three-time MVP of the league.
During Kosiorek’s junior season in 2012, she led the Lady Bombers with 18 kills, seven digs and three blocks in a 3-2 win against Walsh Jesuit in the regional championship, securing Kenston’s first trip to the big dance in Division I under former head coach Danny Coughlin.
“I had a great high school experience,” Kosiorek said. “I was lucky. I was around good people, good programs, good coaches. Yeah, I haven’t thought about Kenston in a while. But Kenston was awesome.”
Returning eight of its nine rotation players to the lineup the following fall, Kenston was on a mission to upset state No. 1-ranked and nation No. 5-ranked Toledo St. Ursula Academy in the regional semifinals. St. Ursula entered the match at 26-0.
The Lady Bombers appeared to pull off an upset in the fifth frame, 16-14, on then-senior Emily Newell’s attack that was initially ruled a kill, but tower official Diane Cavanaugh overturned the call as a lift. The score was adjusted, 15-15, and St. Ursula went on to take the deciding set, 20-18.
“We still talk about that,” Kosiorek said. “Every now and then I’ll talk to Emily Newell, and she’s like, ‘Oh, my god. Remember when we won against St. Ursula and then we didn’t?’ I mean, it still comes up. It’s something that will never go away. We still should have won. It was lame.”
Kenston finished that season 20-7 with four Division I college commits under the late Stephen Scherlacher as a first-year head coach at the time. He died unexpectedly at age 40 while coaching Mentor varsity volleyball in October 2018.
Kosiorek made an immediate impact her freshman season at Ohio University, when the Bobcats went 23-6 with a 16-0 mark in the Mid-American Conference and somehow didn’t get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. She played in all 29 matches, accumulating 280 kills, and was selected to the MAC all-freshman team. Not to mention, she was 13th in the nation for 0.44 service aces per set.
During her sophomore season in 2015 at OU, the Bobcats went 25-8 and earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. Kosiorek led her team with 351 kills and had a program record of nine aces in a match against Buffalo. Also, she earned academic all-MAC status.
“Definitely my first two years there were flourishing for Ohio,” Kosiorek said. “My favorite year was 2015. Our captain and our leaders on that team, we were all happy to follow and be around them. So, when that group left, it was just kind of hard to replace. I mean, the MAC championship at home and then the NCAA tournament – that was great.”
Ohio’s volleyball program took a dip in Kosiorek’s junior campaign, when the Bobcats finished 16-14 with an 11-5 mark in the MAC under third-year head coach Deane Webb.
Then Kosiorek suffered the ACL tear just four matches into her senior season in the fall of 2017 and would need surgery. That’s when it would have been easy to just retire her career, graduate and move on from volleyball.
But Kosiorek wasn’t finished.
Through the help of OU physical therapist James Odenthal, not only was Kosiorek back on the court for a redshirt senior season in 2018, but she was jumping and serving like a machine. She set a program record with 53 aces that fall and was an all-MAC selection. Kosiorek finished her college career with a program record 173 aces and fifth all-time with 1,380 kills
“Luckily, the aces just kind of picked up right where they left off,” Kosiorek said of her return. “My serve is basically an attack, and that’s just kind of like my bread and butter. It was the thing that kind of set me apart as a player from the crowd.
“And, so, I took a lot of pride in it, and it was enjoyable getting to serve in 2018, just because it had been taken away from me in 2017. So, if anything, it was just a lot of fun. And I think, when you have a lot of fun, good things happen.”
Returning to health for a fun and successful redshirt senior campaign, Kosiorek decided she still wasn’t finished yet. In May 2019, she went and played her first pro tournament in Vietnam.
At that point, she was signed with a pro agency called Bring It Promotions, but she wasn’t yet signed with a club team.
“I got to meet my agent and then a bunch of girls who were already professional athletes playing in Europe,” Kosiorek said. “So, it was a great learning experience. And it was actually the first time I had been around athletes who were significantly more physical than I was.
“All the teams I’d been on in college and in high school, I was top 5 percent on the team in terms of physicality. And then when I went to Vietnam, I was like the third or fourth outside. The girls in front of you are just phenomenal athletes. So, it was great, because I got to kind of learn the ropes of the pro league.”
In June 2019, Kosiorek signed a pro contract with the Brondby Volleyball Club in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is a member of the Danish Volleyball Federation and often competes for championships in the Volleyligean.
Kosiorek said playing pro ball had been in the back of her mind since taking a two-week pro volleyball tour in 2016, traveling to four different cities, including Budapest, Hungary; Maribor, Slovenia; Pula, Croatia; and Venice, Italy.
“My kind of thoughts were, I’ve always loved traveling, and I’ve always wanted to live in Europe, and, for volleyball, everything was just kind of starting to feel normal again,” she said. “So, I was kind of like, ‘What the heck. I still want to play, I feel good, I want to go live in Europe and have a good experience and live in a cool city, and this is the way to do it.’ So, yeah, I took advantage of it.”
Kosiorek said she chose the Brondby Volleyball Club in Copenhagen more for the experience than for the competitiveness or the money. She was the lone American on her team, but almost everyone in Scandinavia speaks English.
If she wanted to compete at a more elite level, Kosiorek said she would have targeted leagues in Italy, Turkey, France or Germany.
“Denmark was a little bit of a shocker in terms of accountability,” she said. “I had great teammates; they tried really hard and stuff. But the level of play was significantly lower than college. So, that was just kind of something you get used to.
“And then also a lot of times in Europe, I’d say the majority of the people, their coaches aren’t paid to coach. So, like, my coach was a teacher, and then he literally coached us for fun. And you kind of have to know that going in.”
As an outside hitter, Kosiorek played all six rotations and never got subbed out, she said.
Did she get better in some aspects of her game? Yes. But did she reach higher in her volleyball potential? No.
“It was definitely more of an experience rather than the sport itself,” Kosiorek said. “I mean, I got exactly what I wanted out of it. Everybody was kind and nice, and I lived right in the city. So, it was a good experience for me. And, for me, it just kind of came full circle. I did the pro thing, so now I’m officially retiring.”
Kosiorek might be done playing, but she said she’s not done with the sport.
While she majored in middle childhood education, with specific specialties in math and science, Kosiorek said she’s going to pursue a path in the college coaching realm.
“I do know a little bit of specifics, but I can’t say yet, because nothing’s for sure,” she said. “And then there’s the coronavirus. So, I’m not sure if people can even hire right now, if they’re in a hiring freeze or stuff like that. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. Hopefully, I can get a job. So, that’s up in the air and what I’m hoping for now.”