January 4, 2014 9:39:55 PM
Coming to a new country and trying to fit in is one thing.
Finding a way to make friends and to blend your talents with a new team is another.
Not only did Silvia Sartori have to adjust to being an exchange student at New Hope High School, she also had to find the right way to showcase and to give voice to her years of experience as a club volleyball player in her native Serbia.
Some players would have relished the spotlight and immediately become the center of attention and not given another thought to their new teammates.
Sartori took a different approach, which is why the 2013 season turned out to be a memorable one for the New Hope volleyball team. In only its second season, New Hope won its first district title and its first playoff match before losing to eventual Class II state champion Lake Cormorant in state semifinals. Sartori, a 6-foot-1 multi-talented, played an integral role in the team's success as its primary hitter. She also played in every rotation and was a fixture on defense and in blocking.
For her accomplishments, Sartori is The Dispatch's All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
"I am still kind of worried about if I am a good enough player to stay here," Sartori said. "I really enjoyed the whole season, and I hope I will get an opportunity to stay here."
Sartori's goal in coming to the United States from Serbia was to earn a scholarship to play volleyball in college. She said she is still working to realize that goal, and hopes a tryout at Mississippi College in Clinton will be the opening she needs. She also said she has been contacted by Tougaloo College and sent videos to Southern Miss, Belhaven, and West Alabama.
New Hope basketball and volleyball coach Laura Lee Holman has assisted Sartori in her search for a college. Holman was a standout softball and basketball player at New Hope who went on to play basketball at Troy. Although she is relatively new to the volleyball world, Holman said Sartori is an ideal student-athlete for any coach and any program.
"I think whoever does take a chance on the exchange student from New Hope High School is going to get a diamond in the rough," Holman said. "She is very coachable and has a great work ethic and a fantastic attitude. Those things will go far at the next level."
At first, though, Holman wasn't sure how Sartori would transition to her new setting. She said Sartori was quiet and didn't say much when she first arrived and that she had to encourage her to be more vocal. Holman said Sartori was a respectful player who didn't want to overstep her authority and act like she was working against the coach. But Holman convinced Sartori that's not what she would be doing if she offered suggestions about drills the team could use in practice and worked with her teammates to improve their skills.
"One of the players would ask her something and she would kind of lead them and guide them," Holman said. "She did a good job of using analogies to try to get us to understand what she was trying to tell us. I think she did a great job of letting her game earn her respect. I think when she allowed her game to earn respect, and she knew we respected her, it made it a lot easier for her to open up."
Once Sartori realized she wasn't being disrespectful, Holman said Sartori opened up and became even more helpful in player development and in scouting. As a result, Sartori grew even more dominant as she became more comfortable. Even though opponents knew Sartori was New Hope's primary hitter, they had a difficult time stopping her because of her power and her accuracy. Sartori also showed an uncanny knack to read the court and to vary the speed and placement of her shots.
"I don't think she really liked the attention at first," Holman said. "I think she was afraid her teammates were thinking, 'Ball hog' type of thing in basketball. Once again, I had to go to her and tell her, 'I am not telling you you have to do it all, but when you are set up I need you to go get the ball.' At that point, that is what we needed. As the weeks went by, we got better and better and her confidence in her teammates grew. They did a really good job of getting her the ball. They also had the confidence when it was their turn that they could score, too. That was the beauty of it all. She knew when we needed her and she also did a great job lifting everybody else up so that when it was their chance, they were very confident in attacking as well."
Sartori said she never intended to be a player who said, 'Look at me, this is how you do it.' She knew she didn't want to come across as a bossy presence who acted like she knew it all. Instead, she tried to be encouraging and to remain positive with teammates who weren't as experienced. She also stayed after practice and worked with her teammates who wanted to do extra.
"I was concerned because I heard they were going to have tryouts in the summer," Sartori said. "At fist, I thought I was going to be late and I didn't know if I was going to play volleyball because we didn't know what kind of school I was coming to.
"When I heard this was only their second season, I enjoyed helping," Holman said. "I didn't feel like a coach. I wanted to help coach Holman. My English is that good, so I didn't know how to explain things to her. I think she is a really good coach and she knows pretty much everything about volleyball. They have some really good players for next year, and I would like to watch them play."
Sartori said Holman's willingness for her to contribute to the team's development gave her the confidence to play an even bigger role on the court. She said she was proud to play a role in helping New Hope win Region 2, District 6 and beating Lewisburg 3-2 in the state playoffs. Sartori had 37 kills, including seven in the fifth set, against Lewisburg to help the program earn its first playoff victory in front of a raucous home crowd. A 3-0 loss to Lake Cormorant ended the season at, but it didn't diminish the growth Sartori saw from her teammates and the team.
"I think that made it a lot easier," Sartori said. "I am still learning, and I don't think I am such a good volleyball player and I have a lot to learn. In college, I will have a chance to improve my volleyball skills."
Sartori hopes her first try at basketball will help her realize her goal. She said she never had played basketball prior to this school year, but she feels a new sport has helped her footwork and her conditioning.
Holman said she has worked to increase Sartori's explosiveness by doing box jumps and having her attack the bleachers every day. She said there is no denying Sartori is a skilled player who loves the sport and is extremely coachable.
Finding the right college will be the next step for a player who already has shown she can handle so many roles so well in her first year in the United States.
"I hope for the best. I will try to do my best because I know if I do good I will get it and if I don't I won't," Sartori said. "I don't have time to lose that scholarship."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.