Sept. 11, 2011
By: Jon Cooper
– Three weeks into her freshman season, Ali Santi is still waiting for the pressure of being a college freshman to set in.
The 18-year-old Honolulu, Hawaii, native has not blinded by the big city, nor has she had the deer-in-the-headlights look playing D-I college athletics.
“It’s really fun to be out there,” she said. “I love playing with the girls and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.
“It’s definitely been hard to get used to the college game but I think the preseason prepared me well for the transition,” she added. “I’ve had a lot of reps, we’ve practiced a lot and had good coaching which has prepared me well for that and for the next level of college ball.”
Santi showed how well prepared she was right away, being named to the All-Tournament Team of the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic, a season-opening tournament swept by the Yellow Jackets, when she recorded 122 assists, and her first collegiate double-double (41 assists, 14 digs) in a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Louisville. On Saturday night, she set her career high with 47 assists in Saturday night’s 3-1 loss to Samford.
There has seemingly never been any doubt that she has what it takes to play at the highest level.
“It goes back to the composure that she showed in every match,” said Head Coach Tonya Johnson. “I continue to be impressed with her and what she brings to the team. I think most important, she took command of the court. You don’t see a lot of freshman setters step up and have a presence on the court. She definitely did that.”
Johnson wasn’t the only one impressed by Santi’s inaugural effort.
“I’m so proud of her. Just looking at her almost brought tears to my eyes because I was so impressed with a freshman that walked out there and was so strong,” said junior libero Nicki Meyer. “She ran the court and she never doubted herself. She did an outstanding job and she ran the court like she was a senior.”
“I’m beyond impressed with Ali,” said sophomore outside hitter Jennifer Percy. “I know last year, coming into my first freshman game I was shaking from start to finish and I was acting like I’d never played volleyball before. She came in, held her own, had that confidence, was running the offense like she’d been doing it for years. I applaud her for that. We couldn’t have asked any more of her.”
Johnson can and will.
She has rotated Santi and sophomore Kaleigh Colson, and will continue to do so until one of the talented setters separates herself. Until then Johnson will simply let them push each other.
“I think the competition side of it is healthy,” said Johnson. “These guys can’t take a day off if they want to hold a spot down. I think it’s important that [Santi] was challenged every day during preseason. She’ll be challenged every day pretty much the rest of her career here and I think that’s important if you want to get better and become a better volleyball player.”
Santi credits her hitters for having already done so.
“Obviously, as a setter, they make me look good,” she said. “It’s awesome to get to set hitters like that because no matter what kind of set it is they’re going to better the ball every time. It’s great to get to play with them and the chemistry is just unreal.”
In addition to bonding with her hitters, Santi feels overall team chemistry has been great. That’s why regardless of whether she’s starting or coming in off the bench, she is enjoying being on the squad.
“It’s always great to see everyone so involved, whether you’re on the bench, whether you’re in for half the game, whether you’re in for part of it,” she said. “It really shows what great team chemistry we have, obviously, on the court, but within the entire team. All 15 of us are so close. We call ourselves our own sorority because we are like sisters. Everyone has each other’s back. It’s great.”
“It was what I thought it would be and more,” she added. “I’ve never had an experience like playing in front of such a home crowd, with all the cheers and the band and everything. It’s definitely a huge advantage, the support of the fans and just the whole atmosphere was awesome to play in. It’s indescribable.”
There’s no rush. She has four years to come up with the right words.