Versatile Yankowski Completes Owl Career
KEENE, N.H., 02/14/08 - It's a good bet that Kelly Yankowski will compete in her signature event - the 100-yard freestyle at this weekend's women's New England Intercollegiate Swimming and Diving Association (NEISDA) championships at UMass Dartmouth. But that certainly won't be her only race at the meet.
Set to put the finishing touches on her four-year athletic career at Keene State College, the senior from Turners Falls, Mass., has been a versatile standout who has flourished as a member of Owl swim and volleyball teams.
In an era of specialization, Yankowski has proven her value to her teams on numerous occasions. While KSC swim coach Dr. Jack Fabian can propose a lineup that has Yankowski swimming events from freestyle to back stroke and relays, Owl volleyball coach Bob Weiner could send Yankowski out on the court to play either setter, right-side, or outside hitter positions without losing a beat.
It's not inconceivable that Yankowski could've been in centerfield for the Keene State softball team. But time restrictions and an overlap in seasons might have been too much for even a dedicated athlete like Yankowski to overcome.
As far as Yankowski is concerned, she doesn't mind where she is playing as long as she is playing. "Being versatile helped me and my teams become successful," Yankowski said. It's very satisfying to know you can help your team in so many ways."
It took awhile for Yankowski to display her multi-athletic talents growing up. She started swimming competitively at age 4, but she didn't hit a volleyball until middle school. It wasn't just sports, but the chance to compete. "I loved competing, Yankowski said. "Even as a little squirt, I wanted to be the first off the blocks."
The highly competitive Yankowski also played on some highly successful high school teams. Her senior teams at Turners Falls High just missed the championship tri-fecta - capturing the state softball title and reaching the finals in volleyball and swimming.
Yankowski also excelled in time management. "I always knew I had to get my school work done and get good grades to play sports," she said.
Yankowski had no intentions of being a two-sport athlete at Keene State. But once the volleyball season was over, she decided to take the plunge. "I felt lost without playing a sport, so I decided to swim," she said.
Yankowski was a building block on a fledging Owl volleyball team. "Having Kelly allowed me to build a team around her," said Weiner. "She played three different positions the past three seasons, which allowed me to move talented younger players into the lineup."
Wherever she played, she excelled. The past three seasons, Yankowski has earned All-Conference honors in three different positions.
It's no coincidence that KSC volleyball fortunes also improved under Yankowski's leadership. In her final two seasons, the Owls set a program record for wins (25) and earned a first-ever LEC regular season championship.
Making the transition from court to pool every winter wasn't easy for Yankowski, but she still found a way to make up the distance. "It's really hard at the beginning because everyone else has been swimming for a month or so, " Yankowski said. It's a lot of hard work, but it's worth it.
"To do what Kelly does at such a high level in both sports is amazing," said Fabian. "If she swam year-round, she could be nationally ranked."
Yankowski, who holds KSC records in the 100 individual medley (1:02.73) and shares marks in the 200 free relay (1:40.86) and 400 medley relay (4:12.46), has raced to her share honors in the pool. In addition to earning 12 All-LEC certificates, Yankowski has accumulated 12 All-New England honors, including last year when she swam to wins in the 100 free and 100 I.M, and was a member of the victorious 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
Yankowski would like to make a big splash at this year's New England meet that begins on Friday. "I'm looking forward to a big weekend," she said. "I want to go out in style."
Fabian is still debating which races Yankowski will compete in this weekend to maximize her versatility and point production. A bigger concern will come next year when he has to fill her many events. "She's going to be a huge loss for the team," said Fabian. "We basically have to get three swimmers to replace her."