By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
There are two very different sides to Michealia Skleres and the Pymatuning Valley senior wasn’t ready to go one direction or the other just yet. She may never be ready to separate those two halves.
While attending Washington and Jefferson College next fall, the daughter of John and Irene Skleres will be allowed to continue being those two people as she will play volleyball while also pursuing a pre-med degree.
“I am a closet nerd,” Skleres said. “I love school. I love science and math. I felt that’s why the medical field was for me.
“I pride myself on playing sports. I love sports, too. I would do academics and sports for the rest of my life until the day I die.”
The thought of going to school and not participating in a sport never crossed Skleres’ mind.
“I could not let sports go,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself going to college and not being an intercollegiate athlete. I couldn’t see myself going through a day, attending class and studying and not going to practice. I love sports. I wasn’t ready to let that part of me go.”
Skleres looked for a school with both of those interests in mind.
“To be honest, playing volleyball and getting recruited to a school was not my focus,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for a school based solely on volleyball. I wanted a school with az success academic program. I want to go to medical school and I have to get a good foundation.
“I looked at Washington and Jefferson and it was pretty prestigious. They have a 97-percent acceptance rate into medical school. They were recruiting me, so I thought why not go and visit. I went and looked at it and fell in love with it.”
Skleres chose the Division III school just outside Pittsburgh over Ohio Wesleyan, Muskingum University, Dennison University, Allegheny College, West Liberty University and a Christian school named Holy Family University.
“I was looking at some Division II schools (for volleyball), but I felt, academically, (Washington and Jefferson) was the best choice for me.”
With so many schools in the running and so much of her time wrapped up in competing or studying, it took Skleres a long time to reach a decision. She did, however, find the school she believes she was meant to attend.
“I set a goal for myself at the beginning of the year — I knew it would be a late decision — of making a choice by mid-April,” Skleres said. “I was so busy that getting my college visits in was really hard. After basketball season, I was gone every weekend. There were times I was even gone in the middle of the week.
“All of the schools were beginning to mesh together in my mind because I was doing the visits so close together. It was crazy. I didn’t have time to go and see all of the coaches who had contacted me. They’d been badgering me asking me when I was going to visit. But with sports, honors and AP classes, tons of homework, I just couldn’t fit it all in.”
Aside from volleyball, Skleres played basketball, softball and ran track for the Lakers.
“Probably as a sophomore, I really thought about what I wanted to play in college,” Skleres said. “I love sports and I felt volleyball came naturally to me.”
Skleres’ long-term plan is to be a dermatologist. She will major in biology or bio-chemistry before applying to medical school.
“(Dermatology) is something I have a passion for,” Skleres said. “I knew I wanted to be something in the medical field. I like people, but I didn’t want to go the physician route too much because of all the blood and needles. (As a dermatologist) I still get to deal with people and I like dealing with the skin.”
The science nerd in Skleres would also get a bit of fulfillment in the profession.
“The lab would be my forte,” Skleres said. “I like finding new ways of dealing with acne.
“I maxed out my sciences at PV. I had chemistry as a sophomore and junior and a lot of the chemicals we used (in class), I’d say, ‘Wow, could this go in face stuff?’ I talked to my chemistry teacher a lot.”
Skleres doesn’t want to stop at just curing acne while in the lab.
“You have to start at a young age if you want to think of new ways to cure cancer,” she said. “The goal for me is to work at a company and make new products that people might be interested in and might want to invest in.”
Pursuing a pre-med degree at a demanding school while play intercollegiate volleyball is not generally easy. But Skleres likes the thought of trying to tame wild horses.
“I’m one of those people who love a challenge,” she said. “I love to do stuff out of my comfort zone. I love a challenge. I want to work hard to achieve my goals. I set this goal for myself as a freshmen and for me to not achieve a goal or even get close would eat me alive.
“I set goals for myself that I know will be tough to achieve and I’m not going to quit until l get there. No matter what it takes, I’m going to get there.”
Skleres comes across as a hard-charging, high-tempo kind of girl. Which many would think is the exact opposite demeanor of the two coaches she played for as a senior in volleyball coach Rob Wludyga and basketball coach Jeff Compan.
It was the exact mix of their more laid-back personas and her go-get-them approach that helped Skleres thrive.
“Both coaches’ styles are uniquely their own,” she said. “I loved playing for them. I would not have performed for any other coach. There was not one day I wished for another coach.
“They definitely prepared me for the college experience. They’re very, very good coaches. Outside of coaching, they’re great people.”
A good support system helped Skleres thrive.
“We’re a pretty close-knit family,” she said. “My brothers (Drew, 20, and Mitchell, 14) support me 110 percent. With my mom and dad, it’s the same thing. I give most of the credit to them. They pushed me and gave me the support and the confidence to pursue whatever dreams I had.
“They were always there for me.”
That support system extended far beyond the walls of her family’s home.
“It was nice to be able to surround myself with teachers, coaches, teammates, family and friends,” Skleres said. “PV is like a family. That’s the way it’s always been and the way it will always be.
“I’m definitely going to miss being in Pymatuning Valley athletics. I give all the credit to my teammates. I would never trade any of my teammates for anyone in the world. They pushed me to be who I am and pursue what I wanted to do.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.