What does a successful NAIA student-athlete look like? Take a glimpse of Katie Zent, if you can catch her as she runs by. Her successes on the volleyball court, the track and in her academic pursuits don't leave much spare time. She's also getting ready to graduate from Jamestown College (N.D.) this spring and march off into the sunset, lending her considerable talents to the North Dakota National Guard.
From disasters to deployments, Zent will be counted on to help her community. That's not too different from her role the past several years at Jamestown, where she has been an outside hitter on the Jimmies' volleyball team while serving as a role model and mentor to others. Zent also ran track at Jamestown for three years, earning qualifying marks to the NAIA National Championships several times.
"She is a fierce competitor, a passionate student, and a tremendous teammate," Jamestown College head volleyball coach Jon Hegerle told the Jamestown Collegian. "She thrives on challenges, and she doesn't let what she doesn't know hold her back from extraordinary achievements."
Zent will graduate this spring with a major in biology, where she has a 3.94 grade-point average, and she's been named to the Capital One Academic All-America first team in volleyball. Zent is the recipient of the Janestown College Fellowship, which is granted to the student with the top grade-point average in the major, and she also is a teaching assistant for anatomy classes and a tutor for both anatomy and math. Zent is a member of the Alpha Chi coeducational academic honor society, and she has been active in the Jamestown Pre-Health Club as well.
As Zent wraps up her collegiate career and moves on, first to the National Guard, then to veterinary school, one word comes to mind to describe her, says Hegerle-warrior.
"I remember at a coaching clinic, a world-renowned coach mentioned that all teams need a number of roles filled and one of those roles was the 'warrior.' KZ was truly our warrior for the past four years," Hegerle said. "She didn't ever stop fighting. To say that KZ was an integral part in our successes in her tenure at Jamestown College is understatement. She has collected countless conference, regional and national awards in her career in both volleyball and track and field. However, the success that I am most impressed with is the ability of KZ to be a fierce warrior, yet at the same time provide tremendous leadership on and off the court."
Teammate Sarah Becker, a two-time NAIA All-American at Jamestown, agreed. "Zent was always the person I looked to when things got tough, even when I was a freshman and she was only a sophomore. She always had a confidence and fire about her that made her a great leader. She worked so hard and inspired everyone else to do the same by her example."
Hegerle also points to Zent's willingness to fight through challenges, whether it's the fact she's undersized at her position or times she has endured boot camp and officer training in the swamps of Mississippi.
"I remember when we trained KZ for two weeks to be a starting middle (hitter), and the advice that I gave her was, 'Don't worry about what you can't do, just go hard!' She took this advice and developed into one of the fiercest middles in the nation despite being 5-foot-9 in a position where the average height is six foot," Hegerle said.
A native of Richardton, North Dakota , Zent also has had athletics success all four years. She was named all-conference second team and Dakota Athletic Conference (DAC) Scholar Team her freshman year, helping the Jimmies win the DAC championship. As a sophomore, Zent helped the Jimmies to a conference title and their first-ever trip to the NAIA Volleyball Championship. As a junior, Zent was selected as a first-team all-conference pick for the DAC and the Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) as well as being selected as an NAIA Daktronics Scholar Athlete and DAC Scholar Athlete. Zent wrapped up her senior season with an A.I.I all-conference award, an A.I.I all-tournament team selection and a spot on the Capital One Academic All-American first team.
For Zent though, it has been about making the most of tremendous opportunities at Jamestown College, including those on the court.
"My best memories are definitely on the court," Zent told the Jamestown Collegian. "Every now and then there is one of those games where everything just clicks and everyone is playing to their potential. Nothing compares to a game like that, and they're memories I'll hang on to forever."
There were some bumps along the way, and Zent credits her teammates and coaches with helping her through them.
"I had a real tough time last year," Zent said. "My sister lives in Arizona, and she got a horrible life-threatening infection from opportunistic bacteria. We were in Florida for a tournament, and it was so hard to play when my head was so far away. The team was great though, it's nice having so many shoulders to lean on when things get tough."
Zent's ability to succeed in so many different roles is one of the reasons Hegerle predicts she will be successful-no matter what hat she's wearing.
"This balance is the reason that KZ will be a tremendous asset to the National Guard as well as an accomplished veterinarian," Hegerle said. "On a personal level I am thankful for the time that I had in coaching KZ and for her efforts in helping me become a better coach."
Thank you to Thomas Cooke, Jamestown Collegian sports editor, for his contributions to this article.