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It’s All About Volleyball

Harleigh Leach Chwastyk

By Susan Cousins Breen


Harleigh Leach Chwastyk

Her passions are volleyball and teaching; her philosophy—to maximize all opportunities. Harleigh Leach Chwastyk was just 24 and completing graduate studies at Smith College when she was named head coach of Swarthmore’s women’s volleyball team in 2002. While earning a master’s degree in exercise and sports studies, she was also a teaching fellow and assistant coach at Smith.

In 2005, Chwastyk, a regal six-feet tall, became director of Swarthmore’s physical education program. That year, she led the volleyball team to its first-ever Centennial Conference playoff victory. In the last seven years, she has coached 11 all-conference and 20 all-conference academic selections.

From the sweltering final days of summer through late fall, Chwastyk coaches the Garnet players; in the spring—she recruits and coaches weekly youth camps and the nontraditional spring season. During the summer, she runs the NIKE Volleyball Camp at Swarthmore and is a head court coach for the Cape Cod Volleyball Camp.

Chwastyk teaches physical education classes, including Introduction to Orienteering. Students learn to read a compass and map and by the end of the semester, they are tramping through Crum Woods, reading coordinates to find hidden markers.

Chwastyk has supervised Kids Night Out, a program she started with Eric Wagner, the men’s soccer coach. It provides local parents with free time one Friday night a month— and raises extra funds for College teams.

Chwastyk and her team also raise money for breast cancer research by “Digging for a Cure.” Chwastyk pitched the fundraiser to other Centennial Conference volleyball coaches three years ago. Players collect pledges and donations and each team selects one match in October in which to count their “digs”—when a player passes the ball that has been attacked by the opposition. In the off season, Coach Chwastyk is often on the court herself, playing competitive volleyball in the adult division of U.S.A. Volleyball.

Despite her busy schedule, Chwastyk recognizes that “it’s important to find a balance in my life.” On May 24, she moved closer to that goal when she married David, a 6-foot, 6-inch former baseball player. The birth of their first child in April should bring a whole new kind of balance to her life.

Describe yourself in three words.
Organized. Passionate. Dedicated.

What’s your relationship with your players?
As a young head coach, I knew it was important to establish the coach/player boundary, but I’m still there for my players. I emphasize pride in being a female athlete, and it is important to me to know my players not just as athletes but as people too. I’m part of their campus family—they trust me and know they can talk to me.


Women’s volleyball coach Harleigh Chwastyk recently completed her seventh season as head coach at Swarthmore, where she also directs the physical education program.

How did you become involved in fundraising for breast cancer research?
During sophomore year, my college [Trinity College] coach asked our volleyball team to participate in a memorial volleyball tournament that she was hosting in honor of former teammate Cathy D’Apice. Cathy was a fierce competitor and was only 30 when she lost her battle with breast cancer. Since 1998, I’ve played in that tournament with different teams and also coached teams who were participating. I took the Swarthmore team in 2003.

Why is this event so important to you?
In a nutshell, the tournament provides an outlet for two of my passions—playing volleyball and contributing to an important cause for all women. The day is special because women of all ages and walks of life, including some cancer survivors, participate—and I get to compete with my volleyball friends in a sport we love. We walk away knowing that we’ve contributed to a worthwhile cause—the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative—while competing at a high level.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Ice cream and chocolate—two indulgences that are great motivators to be active and fit and that are so much easier to excuse now that I’m pregnant.

What makes you laugh?
My team and my family. This year’s eight players know how to have fun while working hard. Life is so much better when you’re smiling or laughing.

Were you a tomboy growing up?
Actually, I wasn’t. Although I was athletic—thanks to my mother who inspired my brother Kyle [Leach, Swarthmore’s director of sports information] and me to play sports—I liked being a girl. I was in high school when my mother remarked that I swaggered like a jock; I was shocked because I never thought of myself as an athlete.


Chwastyk makes an annual trip to her high school in upstate New York to hone the skills of varsity and JV players.

What would I be surprised to know about you?
That I love the outdoors. I like camping, hiking, canoeing, and backpacking. My husband, Dave, was speechless the first time he saw me whip a tent into shape. Kyle always says, “If you ever want to get lost in the woods, take Harleigh with you.”

How did you and your husband, Dave, meet?
At the Irish Pub, a bar in Rittenhouse Square. That’s also where Dave proposed to me. It was the middle of Friday night happy hour and he got down on one knee, with the ring in a shot glass, and asked me to marry him.

How do you fit Dave into your schedule?
Dave is an athlete, too, and grew up with a dad who is also a coach, so he understands my commitment to volleyball and my players. He’s one of the team’s biggest fans and helps keep me grounded.

2 Responses to “It’s All About Volleyball

  1. hi im aunt karen aunt kimmies sister. i have heard beautiful things about you. and im no illiterate i just cant type.( ask aunt kim and uncle jack) GOD BLESS YOU AND DAVID WITH YOUR NEW ARRIVAL COMING SOON. HEALTH AND HAPPINESS. I DID NOT READ ALL OF THE ABOVE SO IM NOT SURE IF MY COMMENT MAKES SENSE. BE HAPPY AUNT KIMMIES SISTER KAREN

  2. I'm so proud of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :) You're an awesome person in every way!