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The Dartmouth
April 12, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Kazenski shows her wild side

Next time you bump into a nearly six-foot-tall redhead wearing disco clothes crossing the Green, don't be concerned. If she starts talking about her white belly, don't be concerned. If she wants to show you her tattoo, don't be concerned. If she climbs a tree and starts looking for monkeys, don't be concerned.

But if she wants to play volleyball with you, run for cover, because you don't stand a chance.

Danra Kazenski '99 isn't your typical volleyball star. Standing at 5'11", Kazenski swears she was born in the wrong decade.

"I've been repressed since high school. I'm a disco child, I just born in the wrong decade," Kazenski said. "I wear my disco clothes on a normal day. People stop me to ask if disco inferno is tonight all the time."

"Her Saturday night gear is polyester and big collars and everything that is Saturday Night fever. She has pictures of Janice Joplin all over her room," teammate Janna Merryfield '00 said.

"She's our disco queen," said Anne Murray '00, another volleyball player. "She's tried to play '70s music in the locker room. We've had '70s parties in her honor."

Despite her non-traditional threads, Kazenski reached Dartmouth using a very standard route. Growing up in Moon Township, Penn., Kazenski started playing volleyball in the seventh grade. By senior year she was valedictorian of her high school, a star on her junior Olympic team and high school teams and making recruiting visits to Yale and Dartmouth.

"I was the skinny type that didn't know how to do anything, but I have volleyball in my blood," she said.

Kazenski's parents both played volleyball growing up, and her aunt still plays beach volleyball on the west coast. Her brother is in his first season of college volleyball at the University of Colorado.

The opportunity to play all four years drew her to Dartmouth. As a member of the first recruited class of women's volleyball players, Kazenski has been a starter since her first appearance in Leede Arena.

"This was a perfect situation. It was a chance to play all four years. We're the ones who were going to make up tribal stories," she said. "I didn't want it to be a stress. I wanted it to be fun. I could tell that right off the bat. I knew that [Dartmouth head coach] Ann Marie [Larese] would be a friend."

In her four years on the Dartmouth hardwood, Kazenski compiled an impressive statistical record -- she finished her Dartmouth volleyball career with school records in total blocks (280) and hitting percentage (.273).

But statistics alone cannot show the leadership she has displayed over the years.

"She's my hero," Merryfield said. "I always knew she was a good player, but just this year I realized how good she really is, how quick she is, how solid her blocks are. She so rarely gets blocked, she just works the court. It's a total inspiration to me."

Kazenski also brought to the court a unique composure.

"She's got this quiet fire. It's all in her eyes. She has this wide-eyed, nostril-flaring intensity. Especially against Princeton, that's always been the team she's played up against," Merryfield said. "When we'd get stressed out or frazzled during a match, she'd whisper, 'I have a white belly.'"

Off the court, Kazenski lets her unique personality shine through. On an information sheet her junior year, she wrote that the reason she chose Dartmouth was the ceilings in food court. She added that her favorite thing about Dartmouth was the "smell of October."

An environmental biology major, Kazenski hopes to someday do primate field research. With graduation in the fast approaching future, she hasn't decided her plans for next year. Among her options are Americorp work in the Northeast, or graduate school in her area of interest.

"I'm starting to get more realistic about not living in a tree and looking at monkeys," she said.

Her only run-in with a monkey to date occurred during a seven-month visit to the land next to the land down under.

Following the 1997 season in which the Big Green placed second in the Ivy League championships, Kazenski took a seven-month trip to New Zealand.

"I told the coaches and trainer before I left that I was going to come back fat and happy," she joked.

Kazenski traveled around New Zealand for a month, followed by six months of classes at the University of Westminster.

Continuing a tradition started by two '98 women's volleyball grads, Kazenski got a tattoo on her lower back while at a "techno woodstock."

"I got a little outrageous. I considered a tongue stud for a week," she said. "Everything is so different, I was adjusting in 6,000 different ways. It really taught me how to relax."

"She told me that women in New Zealand wore their dresses over their jeans. By the time she left, she thought that it seemed like a really logical style choice," Merryfield said.

Kazenski tried to keep up with a rigorous training program, but when she returned to Hanover in mid-July, she hadn't touched a volleyball or jumped in seven months.

"I was really revved up to come back after hearing about how great the spring season was," she said. "But it took a month of really hard work in the preseason to get back into shape."

Despite the time off, Kazenski didn't miss a beat when the team opened its season in California: she led the Big Green with 13 kills in their first match of the season against the University of California at San Diego.

Kazenski continued to dominate throughout the season, leading the team with 72 total blocks and a .343 hitting percentage. She had a career high 244 kills on the season to accompany a career low 56 errors.

So next time you bump into Danra Kazenski while crossing the Green, compliment her on her clothes, express your interest in monkeys, ask to see the tattoo and laugh about her white belly. Just make sure you always end up on the same side of the net as her.