A balancing act: Bittinger finds success on the court and in the classroom


Photo courtesy of Andy Drabic.

Nick Buzzelli

Kent State Assistant Athletic Director Angie Hull remembers the difficulty she had two years ago trying to schedule Kelsey Bittinger for her first semester of college.

Typically, Hull builds the schedules of first-year athletes around the university’s core courses, such as college writing, psychology and humanities.

But Bittinger’s case was different. Thanks to Strongsville High School’s Advanced Placement courses, she entered Kent State with the credit hours of a sophomore.

“For me, it was a struggle to schedule her at first because she’d already done all of her Kent core classes. And she wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in yet,” said Hull, who has been with Kent State since 2007. “But Kelsey’s one who you can throw anything at.”

During the past three seasons, Bittinger — a junior outside hitter for the university’s volleyball team — has learned to balance an honors academic workload with the rigors of playing Division I volleyball, a season that requires travel 10 weekends during the season.

“It’s kind of tough, especially during preseason, when we were in tournaments that were pretty far away and playing three matches (a weekend),” Bittinger said. “It kind of stinks because getting caught up on just my notes takes a few hours, and then having to finish homework and everything because I have to do it on Sundays, which is our day off. But I obviously enjoy it.”

Entering her first year, Bittinger followed the lead of former volleyball player Bridget Wilhelm and enrolled in the honors program, a branch of the university whose mission is to “recruit, challenge, and support the highest ability students at Kent State,” according to the program’s website.

However, during this time, Bittinger was still unsure of what she wanted to major in. Growing up, she had always been interested in math and science, so she thought biology was a suitable discipline to study. Bittinger quickly realized, though, that she missed math and wanted to major in something that would combine both math and science.

As a result, after her first semester, Bittinger reviewed the university’s catalog of majors with her older sister, Samantha, an aerospace engineer at NASA, who recommended that she study applied physics.

Bittinger hasn’t looked back since.

She’s aced classes in her major — such as Electromagnetic Theory, Applications of Modern Physics and Classical Mechanics — while also taking courses that she wouldn’t normally have had an interest in, like Chemistry, Art History and Cultural Anthropology.

“Kelsey’s been great. She’s very dedicated, not just (as an) athlete but (as a) student as well. When you have a major that’s applied physics when you’re in the honors program and you have the GPA that you do, it’s a testament to how hard she works,” said head coach Don Gromala. “And she does the same thing on the court. She wants to do everything that she can, and she does that for us.”

Gromala said Bittinger is the primary attacker for the volleyball team.

“She’s a primary passer, she serves, she digs, she blocks — she does it all,” Gromala said. “There’s a lot on her shoulders, on her plate for the success of our program. But I think she goes about that the same way with her school work. She does everything that she can to be her best (and) doesn’t accept being average at all.”

Hull said Bittinger will have enough credits to graduate in 2017 and can take graduate classes during her final year of eligibility if she elects to do so.

“Kelsey’s one who could easily have gone to 12 hours a semester and just slid through, but I don’t think she’s taking less than 16 a semester. She’s taken more than that sometimes,” Hull said. “So she’s got that option of, ‘Am I going to graduate early? Am I going to be a grad student? What am I going to do with that time?’ She’s put herself in a really good situation.”

Bittinger, though, isn’t quite sure what she wants to do after graduating from Kent State — whenever that may be. She said could picture herself working at NASA, just like her sister. But she’s also interested in medical physics, which is applying physics concepts and theories to the medical profession.

“I could see myself doing a lot of things,” Bittinger said.

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].