Feb. 1, 2013
CHICAGO - To some he is known as Rambler Joe, to others he may be Cape Kid, an aspiring foodie or a Sigma Chi brother. Whatever the role, Joseph Smalzer is a man of many hats.
At 6’8, Smalzer is an opposite hitter for Loyola University Chicago men’s volleyball and the team’s leading attacker. A redshirt junior, the Palos Heights, Ill. native has already moved to third all-time at Loyola with 112 service aces, and currently paces the Ramblers with 126 kills this season.
But volleyball is not the only thing Smalzer has at Loyola.
Entering college and redshirting his first season, Smalzer looked outside athletics for a new interest. An avid Harry Potter fan with extra time on his hands, he turned his attention to Quidditch – a game mirroring the fantasy sport in which players ride broomsticks and seek the player designated as the ‘snitch’.
“I had more time to devote to my broomstick,” Smalzer said jokingly. “I wasn’t traveling with volleyball or anything and it was a good time. I was the only one who wore a cape, so I got the nickname ‘Cape Kid’. That was kind of funny.”
Although the hobby lasted only a year due to volleyball starting back up, Smalzer continued to make appearances at Quidditch events and even tried his hand at coaching.
During his sophomore year, Smalzer found volleyball to be a full-time occupation as he made the transition from setter to opposite hitter. Not one to put volleyball on the back-burner, Smalzer quickly picked up the new position, excelling in his first year actively playing for the team and being named the 2011 Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) Freshman of the Year while also earning First Team All-MIVA honors.
The long hours spent on the court and traveling with the team did not deter him from exploring other activities, however, as he soon joined the cooking club while also serving as a founding member of the Sigma Chi Lambda Nu chapter at Loyola.
For a student-athlete, finding balance between sports and classes can be hard to manage. For Smalzer, it was just the beginning.
When asked about his reasoning for staying involved throughout campus, Smalzer merely shrugged.
“YOLO,” Smalzer laughed, referring to the pop culture motto, ‘You Only Live Once’. “Why not get involved? You want to build your résumé. You want to meet people. Those are two things that I’m really focusing on outside of volleyball. With all of the resources that Loyola provides, why not develop a network and meet a lot of awesome people.”
Smalzer has done just that. Seeing through a year and a half start-up process and recruiting new members, Smalzer served as vice president of Sigma Chi, helping the fraternity obtain its charter in April 2012. That year he also found himself earning Second-Team American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American honors after leading his team in kills and ranking sixth in the nation with 48 service aces.
Now entering his final semester as an undergraduate and his third year of eligibility with the team, Smalzer remains busy juggling volleyball, managing his extracurriculars and keeping up with classes.
At a time when most college seniors are coasting through until graduation, Smalzer’s days are consumed with activity.
In addition to serving as vice president of the cooking club, he remains an active brother of Sigma Chi and also lends time to helping coach the women’s club volleyball team in its inaugural season at Loyola. A representative of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), he works to promote community involvement among his fellow student-athletes as they become involved around campus as well.
“One of the main reasons we chose Joe as a captain this season is because he is a great face and ambassador for our program,” said Loyola head coach Shane Davis. “He’s involved in a lot of activities and a great leader for us on and off the court.”
Through cultivating leadership abilities with his involvement at the university, Smalzer has grown as a player and as a person. Ask Smalzer how he has changed over the years, and he will recall a match against UCLA in 2011.
“I tried taking on the hot head role, talking smack to the other players and distracting them,” said Smalzer. “It backfired on me. I ended up poking the wrong guy and he just went off, blasting like 19 kills on 20 attempts. Everyone still makes fun of me today saying I was the reason we lost that match.”
The player Smalzer refers to is Gonzalo Quiroga, who posted 18 kills on 27 attempts for a .667 hitting percentage. After splitting four sets, Quiroga led a fifth set charge to help UCLA defeat Loyola, 3-2.
This season, you will not see Smalzer talking smack or getting worked up on the court. If anything, his teammates will tell you he is their rock.
“When everything starts to go wrong, Joe is someone we look at to make a play,” said redshirt junior Peter Jasaitis. “He’s been a great leader in grounding everyone and keeping the team calm.”
This has not gone unnoticed by the coaches either as Davis acknowledges Smalzer’s growth, especially this year.
“His maturity has really changed in terms of handling adversity through matches and life in general,” said Davis. “That’s something we work on with all of the players, but it’s the one change I’ve really seen this year for Joe. It’s something we continue working on as we try and throw some adversity at him in practice and see how he handles things, whether that’s throwing three blockers at him or other game-like situations.”
Smalzer’s ability to adapt reflects in his experiences at Loyola as he continues working to improve his play and get the most out of his college experience. Whether it is learning a new recipe, letting loose with a game of Quidditch or practicing with the team, Smalzer concludes, “at the end of the day, all you can say is you played your game.”