Vrdsky soars in ROTC and on court

Illini Volleyball´s libero Beth Vrdsky, #3, poses Wednesday after practice in Huff Hall. Regina Martinez

Illini Volleyball´s libero Beth Vrdsky, #3, poses Wednesday after practice in Huff Hall. Regina Martinez

By Troy Murray

Nearly 2,000 fans packed the stands at Huff Hall in support of the Illini volleyball team on Oct. 15 against Minnesota, the No. 17 team in the nation. Among those fans were six members of the Air Force ROTC with the letters “V-r-d-s-k-y” painted in orange and blue across their chests.

These particular fans were in attendance to support junior defensive specialist Beth Vrdsky, who is also a member of the Air Force ROTC.

For most students at Illinois, schoolwork and class is enough to keep busy. As a sociology major, an Air Force ROTC cadet and a player on a Big Ten volleyball team, Vrdsky said she has more than enough on her plate.

“It loads on sometimes,” she said. “I tend to get myself involved in more things than I probably should, but I have learned how to manage my time.”

Vrdsky has not had a problem with managing her time through her first two years of college, maintaining a grade point average above 3.7 and receiving an Illinois State Grant awarded to ROTC students based on academic achievement.

All the activity has not appeared to slow her down on the volleyball court, either. She posted a career-high 23 digs against Austin Peay at the Northern Illinois University Invitational on Sept. 2 and was named to the All-Tournament team that weekend.

She was also a critical part of Illinois’ upset win against two-time defending National Champion USC, finishing with 15 digs overall.

The fact that Vrdsky is involved in so much and excels at everything she participates in could have something to do with her self-proclaimed perfectionism.

Despite her recent success, she was not always the volleyball player she is now.

Vrdsky first picked up a volleyball in seventh grade but admits she was “really bad.” She continued to play and improve until she started playing competitively in eighth grade.

“I fell in love with it and wanted to play all the time,” Vrdsky said.

Part of the reason Vrdsky is still playing today is because of the encouragement of her teammate and best friend, Meghan Macdonald.

“Meghan was a big part of it,” Vrdsky said. “Her dad worked at the high school (Downers Grove South High School) and kind of pulled me along.”

Vrdsky also credits her parents, Steve and Trish Vrdsky, for keeping her going all these years.

“My parents are very supportive,” Vrdsky said. “I’ve been playing year round since eighth grade, and they always come to my matches. They were always willing to pay the money for club. Even still, my dad makes it down to almost every match.”

When it came time to make her college decision, Vrdsky said her choice was a “no-brainer.” Her first consideration was academics, followed by her dream of becoming a fighter pilot in the Air Force. That is where head volleyball coach Don Hardin stepped in.

Hardin, who served in the Air Force from 1972-78, got in contact with the commanding officer at the University and scheduled Vrdsky for a visit.

“They were real excited to get the opportunity to get Beth in, and she’s been very positive for them and for us,” Hardin said. “All I did was set her up with the people that she needed to be with.”

Because the volleyball team had run out of athletic scholarships, Hardin asked Vrdsky to walk on during her freshman year and promised that during her junior and senior year she would receive a volleyball scholarship. Hardin said this also factored in Vrdsky’s situation.

“Beth was only going to be on scholarship for two years, and she wanted to make sure she paid for school on her own,” Hardin said. “She wanted to find a way to make ends meet, and ROTC was a great option.”

Even though her schedule is time consuming, Hardin and her commanding officer do not treat Vrdsky differently.

“She’s treated just like anyone else on the team,” Hardin said. “She’s very responsible, she takes everything on her own, she’s very organized, she knows what she has to get done. In two years, I can’t remember her being late for anything. She’s always early.”

Because of the rigorous workouts involved with volleyball, Vrdsky is exempt from the hour of physical training (PT) on Tuesday and Thursday mornings of every week while she is in season.

During the spring, Vrdsky completes PT with the other cadets. She said this is mainly because she has to stay rested and prepare for games during the season.

But missing training did not appear to affect Vrdsky as she eased through physical fitness tests and finished in the top of every category.

“They’re not that difficult,” Vrdsky said. “Volleyball gets me more than prepared for anything in the Air Force.”

After graduation, Vrdsky will be commissioned by the United States Air Force as a second lieutenant for at least four years or 12 years if she is accepted into the fighter pilot program and goes through with her dream.

The process to be accepted into the program is not easy and only a small number of students gain entry into the flight program. Vrdsky will find out in March if she gets a spot.

Whenever she finishes her time with the Air Force, Vrdsky hopes to put her sociology degree to work and pursue a career in the movie industry or work with kids living in urban areas.

Although it seems Vrdsky would major in something that could help achieve her goals in the Air Force, she said declared majors do not have to correspond to the military.

“You can take anything you want, so it doesn’t really correlate, but it doesn’t really matter,” Vrdsky said.

Whatever she ends up doing, Macdonald said Vrdsky has a bright future ahead of her.

“She’s been working really hard, especially with all the tasks she has with ROTC and volleyball,” Macdonald said. “She’s just a really dedicated person. She has so much on her plate, but she deals with it well. You just know she’s going to be successful.”