When sophomore volleyball player Dana Kurzbard was preparing to speak at the 2003 UCI Athletics Hall of Fame brunch, she literally stayed up all night.

“I wanted my talk to be perfect, to incorporate all the emotions of being a student-athlete,” she recalls. “It had to be witty, yet with a message. And it had to illustrate everything I love about sports, academics, leadership, life – and food.”

Her inventive comparison of an athlete’s mental and physical life to levels of the USDA food pyramid captivated the audience. Those present responded not only to her words, but to Kurzbard herself, the 6-foot-5-inch embodiment of every inspiring quality she talked about in her speech.

“As a film studies major, Dana is extremely charismatic,” says Charlie Brande, women’s volleyball head coach. “I’ve seen her grow as an athlete, and now she’s one of our dominant players. She’s also become a role model for my 8-year-old daughter.”

Kurzbard helped the Anteaters to a 19-11 record this past season, including 10-8 in conference matches, the best in team history.

As passionate as Kurzbard is about sports, she loves academics even more. At Murrieta Valley High School in Riverside County, she was a self-described school nerd. “I read all the time and tripped over my own feet.” She was also student body president, yearbook editor, and an active participant in the drama, film and French clubs.

She is one of about 100 athletes recently named a Big West Scholar-Athlete, which requires maintaining at least a 3.0 grade point average over three quarters. She’s also on UCI’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the student body voice in the management of intercollegiate athletics. “Leadership is another of Dana’s strengths, and she has agreed to serve as SAAC president next year,” says Khari Johnson, assistant athletic director.

Kurzbard’s dream is a career in film – directing, producing, writing and starring. “I want to do it all – to explore film’s potential as art, to do the kind of movie that I think about after I leave the theater – not only about how incredibly beautiful the film was, but how the movie’s themes were provocative and triggered a degree of introspection.”

Kurzbard’s enthusiasm and drive for quality were nurtured by her mother, Robin, who raised Dana and her younger sister to demand the best from themselves. That effort includes tackling hardships with a positive toughness. Kurzbard played through last volleyball season in pain from a chronic right shoulder instability problem. While she could have taken time off, there was “no way” she would sit out once the doctor said playing wouldn’t aggravate her condition. Successful surgery in February left her arm in a sling all spring quarter, yet she is confident she will start another winning volleyball season this fall.

“It’s the experience you take from being a student-athlete that allows you to ace all the other tests in life,” she says.