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POLKA DOTS BENGALS RECORD BOOK IN 'SECOND' SPORT

Last year, one of Monica Polka's professors said he didn't even realize that Buffalo State had a women's volleyball team.

She took offense to that and promptly got to work, rewriting the Bengals record books.

The junior communications and political science major from Youngstown has set six school records, earned three tournament MVP awards, five spots on all-tournament teams and been named the volleyball player of the week five times - twice by the ECAC and three times by the State University of New York Athletic Conference.

Oh, and her team that nobody knew existed? The Bengals are 21-8, already tied for the second-most wins in a season in the 22-year history of the program. With games through at least the first week of November, they could catch the school's all-time record of 28 wins, set in 1993.

Not bad considering volleyball was really an afterthought for Polka.

"I went to Allegheny College to play basketball and I transferred to Buff State because I wanted to be closer to home," she said. "I was going to play basketball and I decided to play volleyball and see if I liked it and if I could handle the workload. I just had fun. Really, I started playing volleyball to get in shape for basketball."

Polka, a 5-foot-11 basketball center, switched her focus to volleyball in the offseason, thanks in part to the motivating comment from her professor and a realization of how much talent the Bengals had this season. She increased her leg strength through more running, which in turn has improved her jumping ability.

"The teams I've been on in the past haven't been good volleyball teams. I've always been on good basketball teams, so I was always more focused on that," said Polka, a Lewiston-Porter graduate. "But this year, we just have a whole different attitude and it's made me realize we've got something going for us. We could be doing really good things here. So then I've just been focusing more on volleyball."

For Polka and the Bengals, the focus is on this weekend, when they travel to Brockport for the second round of SUNYAC competition. Tied for second place after the first round last month, the Bengals can clinch one of the three playoff spots by winning three of their four matches against Brockport, Fredonia, Geneseo and Oswego this weekend.

"The biggest reason we're having success is all 11 people on the team feel that winning is the No. 1 priority and that playing well is going to lead to winning," said David McClary, in his fourth year as Buffalo State's head coach. "Everyone bought into that."

It doesn't hurt, either, that he has a dominant player in Polka.

A middle hitter, her records include most kills in a season (542) and a career (1,206) along with most attacks in a season (1,036). She also owns the record for most aces in a season (78) and career (123). Her record for most kills in a game (44) is tied for the sixth-highest total in Division III history.

And yet what makes her so good is that she's not a one-woman highlight show.

"I think also she's really balancing individual success with allowing the team to also work around her," McClary said. "As much as she wants the ball in offensive situations she also doesn't want to exclude her teammates. . . .

"I think she has an attitude where she feels she can be relied upon by her teammates for six or seven points during the game. And then that allows the rest of our team to play a little more aggressively. When we can rely on six or seven points, we can afford to make mistakes and then we can attack our opponents a little more aggressively."

Polka takes the records in stride. "It's like getting an "A' on a test," she said. "It's just something I've done well."

What she really wants is a chance to win a SUNYAC Championship - and have a lot of fun along the way.

"We have fun when we're out there. Especially for Division III, if you're not having fun playing, then what's the point? Because it's a lot of work," Polka said. "Every division it's a lot of work but at Division III you have to have fun. See, we're playing dodge ball right now. These kind of things just loosen us up and keep us relaxed out there. And once you jell together off the court then on the court you want to play 10 times better for your players, for your coach. Everything's just working."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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