By Matthew Billman
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The West Virginia University volleyball team got off to its best start in school history this season, opening the campaign with an outstanding 14-1 record. There is a lot of focus on the Mountaineers’ young roster, and a lot of talk about what the future holds for them, as well as the success they hope to achieve down the road.
But this season is far from over.
Liz Gulick, a 5-9 defensive specialist who is one of four seniors on the team, is not ready to give up and move on until the final whistle blows in that final set of the season.
She’s the only senior who has been at WVU and has played for head coach Jill Kramer for all four years of her college career, and is the only player Kramer has coached all four years since being named head coach in 2010.
“When Liz showed up, she didn’t know who her coach was going to be. I get here the day before practice starts and she trusted me right away,” Kramer said.
Over the past four years together, Gulick and Kramer have built a strong bond and have helped each other reach an enormous amount of success over the four seasons.
Their bond is built on the trust a coach puts into an athlete to get the job done in tight situations.
“I think that we play off of each other very well. I’ve got a lot of trust in her. We used to call her “Ice Cold” because she had a larger role on the team her freshman and sophomore year,” Kramer explained. “I can’t tell you how many times we put her in at the end of a match when it’s really tight. It would be 23 all and we would throw her in there and she would serve us up two aces to win the game.”
It isn’t just a one-sided relationship, either.
“I’ve been with Jill for four years, which has been longer than anyone else on the team, so I understand her,” Gulick said. “We’ve been through the whole process together so there will be times if we’re struggling, I’ll be able to understand the situation on a better scale with her and how she’s thinking about it.”
Gulick has become a successful player for the Mountaineers with Kramer by her side the whole way, but when she isn’t on the court serving aces, she’s in the classroom acing tests and following her dream of becoming a teacher.
The Wheaton, Ill., native is majoring in elementary education, and has posted a 4.0 GPA every term since enrolling at WVU. She is decorated academically, winning awards such as Big 12 Commissioners Honor Roll, Garrett Ford Academic Honor Roll, Dean’s List, Big East Academic All-Star and Dr. Gerald Lage Award, as well as being a part of WVU’s Honor College.
“She’s a hard worker who’s extremely motivated and really wants to do well on and off the court,” said Gulick’s academic advisor Jill Weston. “She’s on top of all her work and makes really good connections with her professors and has a very great academic reputation.”
Liz is admired by her teammates and is often approached for advice on how to handle schoolwork or even how to talk to professors.
“I make it a challenge to me,” Gulick noted on her academic success. “I’m really competitive in everything I do so I’m constantly setting high expectations.”
While concentrating in mathematics, she also specializes in special education.
Her love for children didn’t just come up out of the blue one day while trying to choose a major.
Gulick’s younger sister had a stroke at birth, which led to her diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy, which effects the entire right side of her body. Initially, the doctors said her sister wouldn’t be able to walk or even live past the age of five.
“They had the bleakest outlook for her,” Gulick said.
Some things happen for a reason, and then there are those who fight and defy all odds. Remember that young girl who the doctors said wouldn’t be able to walk or live past five?
She’s now 16, recently driving, enrolled in honors classes and excelling in nearly everything she does.
“I’ve been around people in special education and people with disabilities my whole life, so that’s something that has always been close to my heart. In high school, I helped out in our special education classroom and it made me realize that I want to teach and help these people, and that’s what really sparked my interest,” the senior defensive specialist said.
Gulick’s helping hand doesn’t end in the high school classroom, as she is now a teaching assistant at East Dale Elementary School in Fairmont, W.Va., where she’s an assistant in Mrs. Parrish’s third-grade class.
Gulick helps out about twice a week for three and a half hours each day. She teaches a lesson every couple of days and helps students who may be struggling or have difficult questions, all which is a big learning process for the star defensive specialist.
With all of her success on the court and in the classroom while also working as a teaching assistant, one can only imagine how tough it is to juggle everything and stay on top of it all.
“Being an athlete makes you prioritize your time a lot and be really responsible with getting everything done,” Gulick said. “I give myself deadlines and set high expectations, while knowing that I’m going to get my stuff done at this time. Then, I go and reach those goals.”