Sports Staff Writer
Frederico Santos’ love affair with volleyball began in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where his father professionally coached volleyball for over 25 years.
As a 5-year-old, he began regularly attending his father’s team practices to help pick up volleyballs. Attending these professional practices gave Santos the opportunity to see players improve through their hard work and shaped his own work ethic for the sport and his career.
“ As a teenager, I’m having this parallel life where I’m totally hooked on volleyball and I’m trying to get better, better, better. I’m doing whatever I can to be the best player that I possibly can,” Santos said. “So, I’m going to school in the morning and in the afternoon I’m going to five practices. On the days when the coach would tell me there was nothing for me to do I would just be there to learn.”
As Santos improved and made the decision to become a professional volleyball player, his father invited him to attend and practice with his newest endeavor — a team of Olympic volleyball players. As a 16-year-old boy, this invitation meant more to Santos than just a new practice opportunity. This invitation was evidence for Santos that his father believed he had the skills to become the professional volleyball player of his aspirations.
“As my dad realized that I was a better player, he let me practice with his professional team,” Santos said. “He trusts me enough to be in this practice that I’m going to challenge them enough and I’m not going to hurt anybody, so for a kid of 16 or 17, you know, I’m in the stars.”
In 1998, Santos played for the Reno Volleyball Club team before moving to Europe to play volleyball internationally. During a team practice in Switzerland, Santos tore his ACL and was released from the team in order to recover. The injury caused Santos to reconsider his future in professional volleyball. He decided against having his knee surgically repaired, choosing the path that led him to UNC Asheville: coaching.
In 2000, Santos was living in London when he received an offer to fill the assistant coach position here — the first school to respond to his applications. After two phone interviews, Santos said he bought a one way ticket to Charlotte where he was greeted with a job offer. He accepted. Santos was an assistant coach for five seasons and associate head coach for his final three seasons at UNCA until he accepted his first head coach position at Barry University in Miami, Florida. He returned to UNCA as the head coach in 2011 and began his seventh season as head coach this fall.
Julia Loveday, a sophomore on the team, enjoys playing for Santos and said she feels he gives her good tips to help improve on the court.
“He’s been coaching for a really long time and he’s been playing volleyball for a really long time so he knows his stuff. He always has good tweaks,” said Loveday.
Santos recruited Loveday while she was playing on a travelling club team during her club volleyball days and since joining his team she has noticed growth in her skills that she attributes to Santos.
“It’s starting to pay off. I am getting more blocks in practice and seeing how much faster I am to get a touch on the ball,” said Loveday.
Junior Cara Guthrie also said she feels Santos’ coach has helped her develop a stronger presence on the court. Guthrie said her general hitting and blocking improved and her coach’s influence made her a more mindful player.
“Being smarter on the court is something he’s big about,” said Guthrie “He’ll emphasize being smart about where you’re placing the ball, instead of just swinging to hit it.”
Although Santos considers himself far from being a professor, he said he still strives to teach his players lessons during practices and games to help them in the classroom and future careers. Santos knows the passion his players have for volleyball and expects them to use the same drive in their classrooms.
He expects his players to bring equal levels of passion to volleyball and to the classroom and strives to ensure the lessons he teaches on the court will provide players with skills to succeed academically and athletically, Santos said. Taking each opportunity, whether in a game or on a Humanities paper, to achieve a personal best is a common reminder Santos gives his players.
“I try to remind my team that every time you go out there it’s one opportunity that you might not get back so you want to give your best effort,” Santos said. “I want them to seize every opportunity.”
Teaching his players to come together as individuals and work towards a common goal requires communication, a skill Santos expects his players to have in order to be successful on and off the court. When preparing for a match Santos does not focus on defeating an opponent but rather ensuring his team is doing the best they can to help and communicate with one another.
The importance Santos places on having a team that cooperates and helps each other enabled the players to create a semi-support group for each other, Guthrie said. One of her favorite things about being on this team is the bond the girls made.
“We’re all really close. We hang out all the time as a team, as a group, we’re a family,” said Guthrie.
In order to be successful, to become winners in all aspects of life, Santos said he believes mastering teamwork is key.
“ I think if you’re a true team, I honestly don’t think you lose. I think you always gain and I think eventually you’re going to gain higher than you think you can,” Santos said. “Being a team is going to carry on for the rest of your life.”