Heritage, hungry personality drive KU volleyball star Jarmoc

Kansas University’s Caroline Jarmoc, left, celebrates a kill with Erin McNorton during the Jayhawks' volleyball match against No. 19 Iowa State on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 at Horejsi Center.

Kansas University’s Caroline Jarmoc, left, celebrates a kill with Erin McNorton during the Jayhawks' volleyball match against No. 19 Iowa State on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 at Horejsi Center.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A mind adroit enough to handle the demands of a chemical engineering major tends to be a mind rich with curiosity as well.

Kansas University volleyball star Caroline Jarmoc’s hunger for learning is not restricted to her science classes. She also wanted to know more about her roots, so through the years she asked her parents about how they came to settle in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the place of Caroline’s birth and upbringing.

“It’s a really long story, actually, but the short version was they actually escaped from Poland,” Jarmoc said. “They couldn’t even tell their own parents they were leaving because of the government times. They had to say they were going on a trip to Italy and then from Italy you would go to a place Immigration placed you. The guy they talked to at Immigration said, ‘How about Calgary, Alberta?’ They said, ‘OK.’”

Jacek and Zofia Jarmoc were married but had not yet had their three athletic children when they fled communist Poland. Jacek, a former basketball player in Warsaw, and Zofia, once a high jumper on the Polish national team, shared with Caroline a popular method of fleeing the country in the early 1980s, which included a period of martial law.

Karol Wojtyla, Cardinal of Krakow, Poland, was elected pope in 1978 and took the name John Paul II. That development, Jarmoc explained, indirectly led many to find freedom.

“A lot of Polish people would go to visit the pope and they would leave in buses,” Jarmoc said. “Large buses would go and the bus would never come back, including the driver. They would send out a driver to pick up the bus and he also wouldn’t come back. Everybody was trying to escape at the time.”

Why? Jarmoc’s parents, who still reside in Calgary, were ready with an answer when she asked that same question.

“It was communist and it was bad,” Jarmoc said. “Not much opportunity and they wanted to better themselves and give us a chance before we were even born, obviously.”

How bad?

“My mother would tell me sometimes you would have to wait in line for hours just to get a piece of meat with your food stamp type stuff,” she said. “My mom had hair to her waist, and she would rinse her hair in vinegar to wash it. It was just very different, very different.”

Jarmoc said her parents are “baffled with how everything has changed,” for the better in Poland.

“They tried to pass a lot of their experiences onto us just so we appreciate everything we have,” she said.

And so she does. She appreciates the bond she has with teammates, the instruction she has received from the coaching staff, and the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament for the host school. Kansas plays Cleveland State at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Allen Fieldhouse. If the Jayhawks win, they advance to a Saturday match against the winner of Friday’s 4 p.m. Wichita State-Arkansas match. Saturday’s start time is scheduled for 6:30. They will wear new shoes and state-of-the-art uniforms and warmups.

“The resources we have here, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Jarmoc said. “My mom was a high-jumper on the national team and they wouldn’t even have shoes. They would have to buy their own shoes or find some shoes. They had one track suit they had for the whole time they were on the national team. It was nothing to this extent. We have trainers and weight rooms here. Even compared to Canada, the U.S. is just ridiculous how much stuff there is. It’s really impressive.”

A junior at KU, Jarmoc is a first-team All-Big 12 selection and a candidate for All-American. As a dual citizen of Canada and Poland, she has the potential to represent either country as a member of its national volleyball team. The coach of the Canadian national team scouted her at a recent home match against Oklahoma and invited her to participate in an extended national-team tryout this coming summer. Jarmoc said she also plans to send an email to the Polish national coach to express her interest in being considered for a tryout.

“It’s always so funny when an international kid gets named All-American,” Jarmoc said. “You’re like, ‘What?’ It’s so ironic, so contradictory.”

Jarmoc said she has visited Poland four times, most recently at the age of 13, and intends on returning for another visit within a year or two.

“I love having two citizenships and I feel like having the Polish passport keeps me connected to my roots and it’s a part of who I am,” she said.

Caroline, whose brother Thomas plays volleyball for the University of Alberta and whose sister Patricia plays the sport for UTEP, learned more than humility from her parents. She also follows their lead in being assertive to get what she wants, instead of letting others dictate her life. One thing she wants during practice, according to her coach, is commitment from teammates.

“She’s been great,” KU coach Ray Bechard said. “She’s had an All-American type year. But also, she has been known to stop practice and let everybody know that this is not quite what we need to get done today.”

She didn’t deny that.

“Yeah, I’m a very dominant person,” Jarmoc said. “I’m sure anyone would tell you that. I was talking to one of the football players and he said, ‘I heard you’re quite the force.’ It made me laugh because that’s a pretty good way of describing me. I don’t ever have a rude or angry motive to anything I do, but I like to get things done efficiently and I’m very blunt. I just speak the truth. What I see is what you get.”

And what an unfocused teammate gets during practice is an earful.

“If practice is slow and people aren’t being efficient and things aren’t getting done, I’m going to call it in and bring everybody in and be like ‘Everybody needs to step it up, because right now it’s obvious and the coaches are getting frustrated with us,’” she said. “It’s just acknowledging the elephant that’s in the room. There’s no reason to ignore it. You’ve got to shine a light on it and get over it. That’s just how it goes.”

That’s how it goes and it has played a huge part in Kansas entering the 64-team NCAA Tournament field as the No. 11 overall seed.