By Shawn Fury
Amanda Rachwal ’21 has come a long way in the four years since she arrived on the Seton Hall campus as a standout middle blocker from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A self-described “drill killer” in her first year with the Pirates’ volleyball team, by her senior season she served as the team’s captain — a true leader on a young squad, someone who could help run the drills and guide the underclassmen in practice and excel during matches.
“I’ve always been told I’m coachable, and I’ve always taken a lot of pride in that because I always want to get better,” Rachwal says. “I’m always soaking up a little bit from what each coach and even other players have taught me, so I definitely see an improvement with myself.”
And because COVID-19 forced the world to experience a year unlike any other, Rachwal will get a fifth year on the court with Seton Hall. It’s impossible to know who’s more thrilled about that development: Rachwal or Pirates coach Allison Yaeger, who had the perfect seat to watch Rachwal’s transformation. “I’m so happy that we’re able to have her for as long as we’re going to,” Yaeger says. “She wants to leave a legacy for this program. She doesn’t want to leave and I don’t blame her because I think that we’re going to be really good. And she will be a huge part of that coming up this fall.”
Rachwal has been a major part of the Pirates’ program from the start, a 6-foot-2 stalwart who “is one of the best middles in the BIG EAST,” according to Yaeger. “She’s very tall, she’s very physical and she does a really good job of connecting with our setters. … She has an opportunity to break some records, get into the top five, top 10 in all-time kills, all-time blocks for Seton Hall. She works her butt off, and when she has good games and we’re on as a team, I think she’s unstoppable.”
This spring, however, everything stopped for Rachwal. As the Pirates competed in an abbreviated season after the fall campaign had been called off because of the pandemic, Rachwal missed many matches when she tested positive for COVID-19 and dealt with the effects and isolation that followed. Physically she battled a fever and congestion and ended up “wiped out and bed-ridden” for about eight days. Emotionally she missed her teammates and coaches, especially since she was the only senior on the club and the team depended on her for guidance.
The experience convinced her she had made the right choice months earlier when she decided to come back for that fifth season, taking advantage of the extra year the NCAA granted student-athletes because of the pandemic. “We have all the right parts, and I’m really excited to see what kind of team we’ll have,” Rachwal says. “There’s so much potential for this year.”
Although she may extend her time with the sport a bit more by playing NCAA beach volleyball after her time at Seton Hall concludes, Rachwal’s playing career will end at some point and the next phase of her life will begin. That may include a career using the skills learned while earning her degree in graphic design and advertising. When she entered college, Rachwal dreamed of going to medical school to become a pediatrician. Her focus shifted to graphic design and she earned an internship with Factory LLC in her hometown, where she worked on everything from social media ads to products found on store shelves.
She also talks about creating billboards and ads in magazines, and how “I just love seeing things and being able to organize and create patterns.” At Seton Hall, Rachwal served as president of the school’s Creative Types, a group affiliated with the American Institute for Graphic Arts that, among other projects, helped a library design a new logo.
She keeps her options open, though, talking about possibly becoming a professor, citing the inspiration provided by Seton Hall instructors such as Christine Krus and Christine Lhowe. Or she could become a coach, remembering the influences of leaders like Coach Yaeger or the fun she had coaching a group of about 60 kids this summer.
Wherever she winds up and in whatever field she chooses, she wants to make an impact. But only after she gets one more year as one of the all-time best difference-makers for Seton Hall volleyball.
Shawn Fury is an author in New York City.