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Burrell grad getting second wind at PSNK

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 11:06 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Penn State New Kensington's Zack Ziemianski heads the soccer ball during practice on Thursday, September 12, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Penn State New Kensington's Zack Ziemianski poses for a portrait during practice on Thursday, September 12, 2013.

Zack Ziemianski played basketball at Penn State New Kensington in 2008 and helped the Lions reach the national tournament. Five years later, he has people wondering if he ever left campus.

Ziemianski, now a 25-year-old sophomore who is six years removed from his days at Burrell High School, has returned to PSNK where he's reconnected with two sports he loves: soccer and basketball.

The soccer part seems excessive, but not to Ziemianski, who's treating the thought of being a two-sport athlete like a fresh-faced 18-year-old would.

Some forget that Ziemianski was a shifty, goal-scoring forward at Burrell, but he hadn't played soccer since his senior season in 2007 when he decided to take to the pitch again during his second college stint.

“My best friend is (sophomore defender) Casey Cavanaugh, and he talked me into playing,” said Ziemianski, who has moved to center midfield for the Lions. “I don't have the same touch I used to have, but I still wear the same shoes and shin guards I did my senior year.”

Being the oldest player on the team also means Ziemianski can act as an on-field coach.

“Zack has already established himself as a leader,” said PSNK coach Jordan Valentine, who is from Preston, England. “He brings a sense of maturity on and off the field to the team and is always encouraging the right play. His communication with the players has been great. He is passing on his knowledge of soccer by praising and advising players throughout practice and games.”

Valentine said Ziemianski still has bursts of quickness, which probably comes from basketball. He has been playing regularly since he crawled out of his childhood.

“I'm always playing somewhere,” he said. “Sheldon Park, the New Ken Y, wherever.”

Ziemianski also serves as a volunteer assistant coach with the Burrell girls varsity basketball team and scrimmages with the team. His sister, Meghan, is the head coach.

His father, Mark, played and coached basketball at PSNK.

Zack already has talked to new basketball coach Art McCray about playing in the winter.

“I came back for basketball,” he said. “I don't want to look back and say I should have done this or that.”

Known for his snappy ball handling and dart-like assists, Ziemianski will help the team in some way. But he can't be an athlete forever, so he's pursuing a career in ... sports music management?

He also has a passion for music, so why not tie all of his hobbies in a nice bow?

“I could end up being an (athletic director) to running music at games,” he said. “I DJ part-time on the weekends. I love music. My dad took me to my first concert when I was 10. Carlos Santana. This is a win-win situation for me.”

Ziemianski took courses at Westmoreland County Community College and online since he last attended PSNK. He plans to transfer to Point Park after the spring semester, so he'll only use one of his two years of remaining basketball eligibility.

Until then, soccer beckons. The Lions are off to a 4-2 start and could be a quiet threat in the PSUAC.

“With every practice and game, he is looking sharper, quicker and his touch on the ball is becoming comfortable again,” Valentine said. “Zack will play an integral part this year.”

The 26-man PSNK roster is an ecclectic and well-traveled bunch. Senior forward Ashutosh Pandey is from India and freshman Jeff Woodings has served two tours in Afghanistan as a Marine. It also includes other Alle-Kiski talent in Highlands grads Mike Killian and Jimmy Cook, and Burrell's Cavanaugh.

Said Ziemianski: “Coach has gone out of his way to get people to come here.”

Even “old guys” who have no issues finding their rhythm.

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