Volleyball Player Ready to Make Impact Off the Court

April 21, 2020 | Athletics, Features, Graduate News, News, UToday, Health and Human Services
By Chris Cullum

In many ways, Zoe Birnbrich will leave The University of Toledo volleyball team in a class all her own. Which is fitting, because that’s exactly how she entered the program.

Birnbrich, who played her last match for the Toledo volleyball team last fall and is set to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy, finished her career with a 0.308 hitting percentage, second in program history.

Graduation Cap

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: During this time when we cannot come together to celebrate our graduates, UToledo is recognizing the Class of 2020 with a series of feature stories on students who are receiving their degrees. Help us celebrate our newest UToledo alumni. Visit utoledo.edu/commencement to share a message of support to graduates and come back online Saturday, May 9, to take part in the virtual commencement ceremony.

When the Dublin, Ohio, native arrived on campus in fall 2016, she was the only freshman on the team.

“It was very cool, but scary at the same time,” Birnbrich said. “Having no one to go back to the dorm with and talk about how practice went, or not having someone with the same schedule as me, that was hard.”

Birnbrich was lucky that her roommate, Abby Demboski, was a Toledo soccer player from the same hometown. But the volleyball and soccer teams had opposite schedules, so there were many weekends where one was home while the other was on the road.

“I was so scared to miss morning lifts if my alarm did not go off because no one could get into the dorm and get me,” Birnbrich said.

On the court, Birnbrich proved to be a valuable asset for the Rockets as a freshman, starting 19 of the 24 matches in which she played.

At every match and at every practice during Birnbrich’s time as a Rocket was Assistant Coach Bethany Lokken, who was hired in spring 2016. Birnbrich credited her with helping her not just as the only freshman getting started on the team, but throughout her whole career.

“She was my position coach, so she worked with me every day on the court,” Birnbrich said. “She helped me through everything in college and was the only person who stayed in my life at Toledo from freshman year to senior year.”

Zoe Birnbrich playing volleyball

Zoe Birnbrich, who finished her Rocket volleyball career with a 0.308 hitting percentage, second in program history, will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy.

“Zoe is the first Rocket I had the privilege of coaching all four years,” Lokken said. “From her first days on campus to the end of her senior season, I saw a ton of growth not only as an athlete on the court, but also as a student, a teammate and a person.”

“Zoe was a great player and a fun person to be around,” added Head Coach Jason Oliver. “I know that we saw great improvement in her on and off the floor, and she dedicated a lot of time and energy to this program. I will miss our conversations and will look forward to seeing how she impacts the world around her.”

The final step for Birnbrich is a 14-week internship at a behavioral and mental health inpatient facility in her hometown of Dublin for the final credits she needs to graduate from the College of Health and Human Services.

“My classes and professors in my major really prepared me for life after college,” Birnbrich said. “We had to complete 250 hours of clinical experiences with many different populations, so I feel confident leading group sessions and knowing I can impact my clients’ lives.”

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