Volleyball star finds her place on and off the court


As far back as her sophomore year in high school, Ewelina Gacek knew she wanted a career in law enforcement.

volleyball players on the court
Junior criminology major and outside hitter on the Patriots women’s volleyball team, Ewelina Gacek (No. 19) has shined on the court this season. Photo by Rafael Suanes/Mason Athletics

That is why George Mason University and its highly regarded Criminology, Law, and Society Department originally made it onto her radar. Add an offer of an athletic scholarship and Gacek, from Chicago, said attending Mason was something she couldn’t pass up.

Now a junior criminology major and outside hitter on the Patriots women’s volleyball team, Gacek has shined on the court for a building squad. But she also has taken advantage of a university culture and flexible environment that does not demand student-athletes cocoon themselves in what Gacek called an “athletic bubble.”

“You get the opportunities to meet people and do something separate from volleyball,” Gacek said. “It gives me another identity, and it’s cool to show people I’m not just a Mason athlete, that I am part of the Mason community in a different way.”

For Gacek, that means participating in Mason’s Police Cadet program and getting a summer internship.

gacek with volleyball
Photo by Art Pittman/Mason Athletics

Still, it is volleyball that defines the Fall 2023 semester for Gacek as the Patriots try to find their way after winning only 12 matches during her first two seasons. The team already has six wins this season with 11 matches to go, including a 2-5 record in the Atlantic 10 and Gacek leading in total points and kills.

“She’s been absolutely fantastic for us this year,” Coach Megan Shifflett Bachman said. “She’s incredibly athletic. The kid is in incredibly good shape and just outworks people.”

For Gacek, though, it’s all about the team.

“I’ve never seen us have such depth at every position,” she said. “Everyone is truly ready to go, and that’s what I mean by everyone is on the same page. Everyone is willing to put in the work and be ready when they need to be.”

As a cadet, Gacek must be ready for several duties. Cadets direct traffic on campus, lock up and help patrol academic buildings, and help with security during events.

Interestingly, Gacek said no one in her family is in law enforcement, and she even had thoughts of becoming a lawyer. But after some Mason classes that were taught by faculty who had been or are in law enforcement, Gacek said her career direction solidified.

“The professors, you just can’t beat it,” she said. “It’s like I’m getting officers and federal employees teaching my class.”

That said, another possible career option did emerge last summer, when Gacek worked as an intern in Victoria Secret’s compliance office, an opportunity she got through a former teammate’s connections. There, she said, she did intake of cases and classified them according to subject matter. She also worked with senior investigators, listening in on interviews and taking notes.

“It was great,” Gacek said. “It just opened my eyes to another thing that I could do as far as my career.”

For now, though, Gacek and her teammates are focused on building toward the Atlantic 10 tournament. The event, hosted by Davidson College, isn’t until mid-November, so there is plenty of time to fine-tune, starting Friday, Oct. 13, at home against Loyola University Chicago.

“We’re all just hungry and want to prove people wrong,” she said. “We all have the same goal in mind, that we can be who we want to be.”

A sensibility, Gacek found, that Mason encourages in all its programs and opportunities.