Making his 'Mark' in the GNAC

by Matt Couture / Beacon Staff • February 3, 2016

Mark Piorkowki was the GNAC Corvias Rookie of the Week after four games.
Mark Piorkowki was the GNAC Corvias Rookie of the Week after four games.

Just four games into his rookie campaign with Emerson’s men’s volleyball team, freshman outside hitter Mark Piorkowski is already commanding praise and accolades.

Piorkowski’s stat line is an attention-grabber. He leads the Lions with 50 kills, 16 service aces, and 68.5 points. His impressive start is also registering on the Great Northeast Athletic Conference leaderboards, where he ranks second in service aces per set and tenth in kills. Piorkowski was named the GNAC Corvias Rookie Of The Week after four matches. 

The team plays in the GNAC because the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, which houses all other Division III programs from the college, does not sponsor men’s volleyball. That hasn’t stopped Emerson from seeing stiff competition from opponents like Endicott College, and Piorkowski has risen to the challenge early on, according to head coach Ben Read.

“Mark knows we’re going up against really good teams,” Read said. “In his mind, he knows he can help us be competitive and beat those teams.” 

In Emerson’s match against the Gulls on Jan. 26, a five set tug of war that came down to the wire, Piorkowski registered 26 kills—16 more than his closest teammate and 13 more than Endicott’s leader Troy Riorden. Piorkowski said the experience was the highlight of his time on the court thus far. 

“It was pretty memorable,” Piorkowski, a marketing communication major, said. “First real away match, and I’ll probably remember that forever.”

Piorkowski isn’t exactly a stud server by luck—a crucial choice introduced him to the sport in high school. The 6-foot-4 New Jerseyan was a basketball player first and wanted to stay active in the spring. 

“I was between four different sports, and I decided on volleyball because it looked like a lot of fun, something I wanted to try out, something I’d never played before,” Piorkowski said. “Ended up working out well.”

Piorkowski doesn’t lead the Lions in kills thanks to pure strength. Rather, according to roommate and teammate Jacob DiTore, Piorkowski’s skill and mental calculation work in his favor often.

“His volleyball IQ is really high—he knows when to hit, when to tip,” DiTore, a freshman marketing communication major, said. “He sees what’s open, which makes him very effective. He’s not one of the hardest hitters on the team, but he gets the most kills because he’s smart about where he puts the ball.” 

DiTore said Piorkowski hasn’t let his strong early stat-line bloat his ego. The quick-starting freshman has instead used his success as a teachable moment for his peers.

“I expected the other freshmen to be on my level, but Mark is great at volleyball, and he knows it,” DiTore said. “He’s humble about it, which is the best part. He understands what he’s doing right, and he understands what he need to improve on, but instead of just working on his game, he also helps others.”

Piorkowski’s selflessness is unsurprising given his stated volleyball philosophy: Players are particularly reliant on the man standing next to them. 

“It’s one of the most team-oriented sports,” Piorkowski said. “If one person’s not playing well, then everyone else doesn’t, but if everyone’s playing well, the team does well.” 

Piorkowski is doing his part—and then some. His 26 kills in the Endicott matchup made up 49 percent of the Lions’ production in that statistical category. Read said Piorkowski’s early display of talent is reason for serious optimism, but that he still wants to see more before declaring him a freshman phenom. 

“Once we get a third of the way into the season, or halfway, and he’s doing the same stuff, I think he’s in contention for being a rookie of the year type in the conference,” Read said, knocking on wood.

Piorkowski also recognizes that the book is far from closed on his opening season. While he’s made a strong opening impression, he said holding the line through April is his focus now.

“I just want to make sure I’m able to keep playing at this level,” Piorkowski said. “I want to be a great all around player.”

Piorkowski and the Lions (2-3) will square off against the non-conference Newbury College Nighthawks (0-5) in Brookline on Thursday night.