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St. Vincent mourns ... together

| Friday, Dec. 31, 2010

Kristen Zawacki was remembered with tears and laughter, fondness and respect, admiration and love as she was laid to rest Thursday.

An estimated crowd of 1,000 filled every pew in St. Vincent Archabbey Basilica to memorialize the only womens basketball coach St. Vincent College has had. Zawacki, 52, was found dead of an apparent heart attack Christmas Day in her Hempfield home.

"We grieve, but we also gather to take part in the celebration of the Eucharist in gratitude to God for the gift of Kristen in our lives," Archabbot Douglas Nowicki said during his homily. "She became a sister to all of us; and today we miss her as a beloved member of the St. Vincent family."

Members of the Lady Bearcats basketball team, which has stormed out to a 9-1 record, sat in front of the church. Several players Zawacki coached in years past wore gold T-shirts with green lettering that read, "In Memory of Coach Zawacki, Classes 2004-2009" on the back and her favorite motivational phrase -- "You want it, you got to get it ... together" -- on the front.

Colleagues from St. Vincent and the coaching fraternity attended, as well as representatives from the NAIA and NCAA Division III and Joe Onderko, executive director of the Presidents Athletic Conference.

Zawacki compiled a 512-276 record, collecting her 500th basketball win Feb. 20 in an upset of nationally ranked Thomas More College. She was the college's first softball coach in 1985, a position she held until 1989 and again from 1996 until 2007. She also served as associate athletic director and senior women's administrator at St. Vincent.

"Kristen herself was the Lady Bearcat," Nowicki said. "The young women she recruited for that first team in 1983 quickly became Lady Bearcats themselves. ... Kristen looked upon these young women, and the many other Lady Bearcats that followed, not simply in their function as basketball players, but as unique special persons.

"It was important to Kristen that each of her younger sisters would succeed academically, be successful in life, but above all, become the unique person God was calling her to become."

College President Brother Norman Hipps will initiate a Projektenmacher Award in 2011 to recognize creativity and honor and encourage the spirit of the founder of St. Vincent, Archabbot Boniface Wimmer. Nowicki said he will name Zawacki the first unofficial recipient of the award, along with the first St. Vincent women's basketball team.

"Once in awhile, it is nice to have the authority of an archabbot before the rules and procedures are made up," he said with a chuckle.

Hipps said a scholarship will be established in Zawacki's name, and her initials will be added to Lady Bearcat uniforms.

Lisa (Dorenkamp) Povlick recalled how important Zawacki's players were to the coach. "The term 'student athlete' meant exactly that to Coach Zawacki; student first, athlete second," she said of her friend, whose teams boasted a graduation rate of about 95 percent. "But what made coach the proudest was seeing the type of women these ladies became after their lives here at St. Vincent."

She recalled Zawacki's fun side. "When everyone thinks of Krissy, they certainly think of her unparalleled sense of humor," said Jackie (Funk) Mullens, another friend. "We will always use this humor to help us get through the tough times in life. She will make us laugh always."

D.P. Harris, mens basketball coach, said he had a great partnership with his colleague at the Unity campus.

"She cared about every student at St. Vincent College and had a sense of humor and a sense of life that was second to none," Harris said after the service. "Any time you have someone like Kristen pass away, there's a void and emptiness that is felt for years."

Zawacki is survived by her mother, Bridget Glamp Zawacki; a brother, Terry, and his wife, Kathy, of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla.; a nephew and godson, Brandon, and his wife, Mandy, of Tampa; a niece, Sheena Zawacki of Gainesville, Fla., and her 7-month-old great-niece, Zoey; and numerous aunts and uncles.

Additional Information:

College names interim basketball coach

James Petruska will be St. Vincent College's interim women's basketball coach for the rest of the season, the school announced Thursday.

Petruska, an assistant, replaces Kristen Zawacki, who died suddenly last week.

Petruska, 28, joined the school as a graduate assistant for the 2006-07 season before being elevated to assistant the next year. He is the son of Deer Lakes girls' basketball coach Dana Petruska.

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