April 17, 2014 10:36:36 PM
Silvia Sartori knows how to perform in crunch time.
The New Hope High School senior delivered one of the state's best individual efforts when she recorded 37 kills to help her team to a 3-2 victory against Lewisburg in the opening round of the Class II playoffs.
But Sartori, an exchange student from Serbia, is accustomed to performing on the court. Years of playing club volleyball in Serbia prepared Sartori to handle the pressure that accompanies having to make a kill or a dig with a set or a match on the line.
That "pressure" pales in comparison to the feeling Sartori felt as she saw time running out on her chances to play volleyball at a college in the United States.
Sartori, who earlier this year was named The Dispatch's All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year, had a tryout at Mississippi College in Clinton. She also sent videos to Southern Mississippi, Belhaven, and West Alabama and was contacted by Tougaloo College. Nothing materialized from any of the schools, which left Sartori wondering if she would be able to realize her dream and stay in the U.S. to play volleyball in college.
"I was trying to see where I could go," Sartori said.
Those fears were erased Wednesday when Sartori held a signing ceremony to celebrate her acceptance of a scholarship to play volleyball at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. Sartori didn't sign a scholarship Wednesday, but she said Lee coach Andrea Hudson will send her paperwork in a week so she can sign everything and make it official.
"I feel awesome," Sartori said. "Everything I dreamed about, it has it."
Sartori visited the campus and met the players on a Saturday. She also participated in a tryout the next day. She admitted she didn't know where Lee University was until she went there. She also said she was nervous because she knew the tryout could have been her final chance to make an impression.
"I knew if I didn't show how I play that's it, I am not going to get anything," Sartori said. "The head coach asked me after the tryout if I was nervous. I was like, 'Yeah.' She said she didn't see it, but I was so nervous."
Sartori said she felt like she did OK at the tryout, but she couldn't help thinking about what would happen if she didn't do well and failed to receive a scholarship offer. She said her goal was to stay in the U.S. to get a chance to go to college and earn an education and to play volleyball.
New Hope High volleyball coach Laura Lee Holman, who also coached Sartori on the school's girls basketball, said the ups and the downs of the recruiting process were tough on Sartori. She admitted she had several talks with Sartori in the locker room to help her raise her spirits about her chances to play volleyball at the next level.
Holman credited Sartori for making a highlight video, reaching out to her Mississippi Juniors club volleyball coach Tina Seals, and sending emails to coaches, including the coaches at Lee University.
"I think it is great," Holman said. "Me and Silvia have really gotten close. Basketball gave us the opportunity to get even closer. I am just excited for her. It has been rough, especially watching D.J. (Sanders), Kaitlin (Bradley), and Taylor (Blevins) sign earlier in the year. That kind of made her panic a little bit. Watching the recruiting process with Moe(sha Calmes) and Taylor (Baudoin), I think she kind of felt like time was running out.
"It was stressful, and it was hard to keep her believing it was going to happen."
Sartori's brother, who was an exchange student at Hamilton High in Monroe County several years ago, accompanied her to the tryout at Lee, which competes in the National Christian College Athletic Association.
He is pursuing his master's degree at William Carey. Sartori initially was slated to be an exchange student at a school in the Hattiesburg area, but she said that move fell through and she wound up in Lowndes County.
Sartori, who is 6-foot-1, started playing volleyball when she was 7 years old. She also plays the sport at the club level in her home country. She admits it was an adjustment coming to a state in which volleyball is still growing and a school where the sport is so new, but she credited her teammates for making her feel at home.
Holman also welcomed Sartori's knowledge of the game and said the 6-foot-1 right-side hitter helped teach her about the game and fit right in with the volleyball and the girls basketball team.
"She is a great kid. She is going to be great at the next level," Holman said. "She has the mentality, the work ethic. I think she is going to do great things at Lee University. She loves volleyball. She showed us that during our season with the willingness to be who we needed her to be and to work so patiently with me and teaching me as I needed to be taught."
After riding the recruiting roller coaster, Sartori feels she gained confidence because so many people believed in her and that she would get a chance to play volleyball in college. She smiled when she said she was the only one who didn't believe in what she could do.
"Now I know confidence is the most important thing I have to have," Sartori said.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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