Reprinted with permission of Avon LIFE
|Avon’s Kara Mazur, a senior at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, has been playing racquetball since she was 7 and will represent the United States as a member of the Junior Olympic Team this December in Mexico.
Kara Mazur is a two-sport athlete at Miss Porter’s School, starring on the squash court and soccer field. The Avon resident picked up squash because she needed a second sport to fulfill athletic requirements at the school and it was the closest in nature to her first love, racquetball.
“This is a girl who’s on probably the highest level of racquetball in the country.” – Coach Brad Carpenter
She excels in multiple sports
Kara Mazur is not your typical student-athlete. While most athletes will pick up a traditional sport such as basketball or tennis, Mazur began playing racquetball with her father at age 7 and has become one of the premier junior players in the country.
The Avon resident and senior at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington won her first national racquetball championship in June in Portland, Oregon, beating out a field of 24 competitors in singles’ competition.
That accomplishment put her on the USA Junior National Team for the second year in a row. After a week of training in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center, Mazur will represent the United States in World Junior competition in Mexico in December after qualifying as the No. 1 singles player in the 16-under-division. Junior Team appointments are for one year from the date earned and athletes who qualify remain on the team until they either re-qualify or fail to do so the following year.
“I’m definitely really nervous, but really excited,” said Mazur. “(Because I was there last year) I know what to expect from the crowds and the pressure this year.”
A multi-talented athlete Mazur’s athletic prowess isn’t pigeonholed to just racquetball by any means. At Miss Porter’s, students are required to participate in several team sports, which means Mazur, who also plays soccer, decided to pick something up in the winter season.
Squash “was something that I could kind of do (because of racquetball) and so I just picked it up,” Mazur said. “It’s not difficult to play racquetball all year long and then play squash, but it is difficult to play squash all year long and then play racquetball.”
The squash program at Miss Porter’s was started almost 10 years ago and the team won the New England B Division Championship in 1999 with a runner-up trophy in 2000. Mazur herself finished third at the New England Championships as a junior last season and earned the team’s Most Valuable Player award. For the 2002-2003 season, Mazur was honored with the Coaches’ Award. On the soccer field, she was named to the All League team in 2004. “There’s no question she’s an athlete,” said Miss Porter’s squash coach Brad Carpenter. “This is a girl who’s on probably the highest level of racquetball in the country and the amount of training and commitment she needs is nothing short of what a world class athlete needs.”
Carpenter, in his fourth year as head coach, says that the jump from racquetball to squash wasn’t too much of a problem for Mazur. Her father, Ed Mazur, is a former CT Racquetball Association president and avid player himself so, as he said, it was natural for his children to pick it up as well. “She took to it pretty quick and she was always at the top of her divisions and now has reached the top level,” said Mr. Mazur. “She’s really maturing as a player and an athlete and knows what she has to do to be the best. She’ll go to soccer practice and then go play racquetball and lift weights.”
Tweaking her all-around skills Mazur trains with Jim Winterton, a nationally recognized coach who led teams to two Pan-American championship titles and five World Championships throughout the 1990s. Mazur recently visited him in order to ‘tweak’ her stroke a bit. She also has trained with Cheryl Gudinas, the No. 2 women’s ranked player according to the United States Racquetball Association. But that doesn’t mean her dad sits by and watches. “I’m her game coach, which means at competitions, when I’m there, I help with her strategy and shot selection,” said Mr. Mazur. And all that coaching and experience has helped her to improve continuously over the years. “Her hand-eye coordination and her abilities are so good that squash wasn’t really a stretch for her,” said Carpenter. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was just as good at tennis. There are days I will go out and see her actually invent shots. She’ll get to or retrieve something I wouldn’t think she could get to or do something I’ve just never seen her do.” Mazur is captain of the soccer team this fall at Miss Porter’s and was captain of the squash team last year, but, Carpenter said, doesn’t seem to be as comfortable in that leadership role even though she has no problem helping her teammates develop as players.
“She’s a little shy and very humble,” said Carpenter. “I think it’s hard for her to imagine that she has something to offer others. She can recognize it, but she’s just so humble and it’s a truly genuine attitude of ‘I’m just me.’ She’s a superb kid, very affable, very kind. I can put her on the court with lesser players and she’ll take on the teaching role.” Carpenter also has the added bonus of being able to show his players how to correct what they may be doing wrong by having them watch Mazur on the court.
“She’s a great athlete and it’s so useful to be able to not only go, ‘here’s what a great athlete is,’ but ‘here’s what a great forehand looks like’ as well,” said Carpenter. “ I can ask her to do something and she does it, there’s no whining on the court and because of her they can see that every little thing does matter.”
Mazur says that she thinks this year could be a lot easier on her as the leader of Carpenter’s squad. “Being a sophomore and the No. 1 player on the team can be a little awkward when you have seniors looking up to you, but I think it’ll be a lot easier this year as a senior now,” Mazur said.
Carpenter said she already has the tools to be a top athlete and leader because of the habits she has adopted over the years.
“She has a sense of responsibility, commitment, competitiveness, she does not like to lose,” he said. “The maturity in her approach to the sport is beyond her years, she has a focus and drive beyond her years and is an incredible role model for the rest of the team. She has adopted habits that have defined who she is now and it’s exciting to work with her.” AL