To be a back-row volleyball specialist requires a lot of talent and trust. Trust that you will have everyone's back during a game—literally. With impeccable ball control and defensive skills, the back row offensive and defensive players keep the game moving fast and consist of an outside hitter, libero, and a setter. These players are often seen as leaders of the pack for their team, and our latest Athlete of the Month, Olivia Casabona, is no exception.
Nominated by her teammate, London Walsh, Olivia has averaged four aces a game, over 20 digs, and was named MVP of her team at John F. Kennedy Catholic Prep School in Somers, New York.
TrueSport Ambassador and Team USA weightlifter Abby Raymond sat down with this star libero for our most recent Athlete of the month interview. Dive in to learn more about how this 10th-grader leads her teammates to success.
Diving in (literally)
Abby: "You're known to dive for your team—to the point that you even smacked your head in one game and still got the ball up. What goes through your mind in these moments?"
Olivia: "I didn't have a concussion, which is great, but I guess, honestly, the only thing that was going through my mind was getting the ball up so my team could keep playing. I wasn't really paying attention to how I was diving, but it went up and helped. It hurt a lot, though!"
Abby: "Well, hey, I mean, that shows grit right there. When did you start playing volleyball and really fall in love with the sport?"
Olivia: "I started volleyball in fourth grade, but the real game started in sixth grade when we started diving into the real rules and playing on teams."
Abby: "What motivated you to try a new sport?"
Olivia: "I've always been a sports person since I was young. I think I've played every sport you can name soccer, like, softball, baseball, everything, dance, like, literally everything. And volleyball is a huge thing at my school because I went to a small Catholic school, so we only had volleyball and basketball. It just became something every girl would try out for. And I stuck with it."
All in the family
Olivia attributes her love for sports to her family. Both parents have helped her and her brother practice, train, and provide support on the sidelines.
Abby: "Do you feel like the support you've gotten from your family has helped you support and encourage your teammates?"
Olivia: "Oh, definitely. Especially the way that my dad used to coach. That's the way that I try to be for other people, especially freshmen and younger kids on the teams. I think my go-to is honestly just being positive no matter what. I just want to make sure everyone's having fun. Because winning is amazing, and playing good is amazing, but if I see someone not having fun, it brings the whole energy down. I want to know that everyone enjoys what we're doing together."
Abby: "That's amazing. I hugely value that in my own sport, and I always try to bring positivity into the gym and my training. But, honestly, it can be a big weight to carry when it feels like you're always the one trying to encourage and be that light for everyone. Have you ever felt burnout from that?"
Olivia: "Um, a little bit definitely. I played for a club team last year for volleyball, where it kind of just felt like I was running at a standstill, and no matter what I did, we weren't clicking. We weren't. No one was enjoying themselves. It felt like we were playing the sport just because we had to. And that's a pretty awful feeling. But honestly, for that to get over it."
"I just had to focus more on what I could control and try to enjoy the rest of the season and then make a change."
Abby: "How do you support your teammates during a bad game?"
Olivia: "We had a lot of bad games this season, but if I know someone's upset, I'll be like, hey, you did amazing; that one hit you had was really good. That was an important time; you put it in a great spot."
The guts to keep going
Abby Raymond shared how her success and motivation to keep going are rooted in her faith. After a major ACL tear Abby was forced to take a step back from sport and reexamine her life. Still, in her early teen years at the time, she recognized she needed to find out who she truly was to set the tone and get back into her sport. Once she realized that, everything changed.
Abby: "I have so much respect for you and think it is so incredible that you can be that light for your team and you were able to encourage them. And I want to encourage you to keep it up and don't let other people stop you from doing that. Is there a certain phrase or motto that you've created for yourself? To keep going?"
Olivia: "There's a few. Like I know when I'm in a rut when I'm passing or something like that. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and tell myself this is a new ball. What I did the last five times does not have to happen this time. That's helpful. And then, like going off what you said about giving your life to Christ, something that I saw that helped me was playing for an audience of one, and that helped change my opinion on how I play and not focus on how good I was compared to how other people look."
SportsEngine: "So you support everyone else—who is there to give you support back?"
Olivia: "After a tough game, I'd say that honestly, I might also go to like London because she's just like she's the type of person where it's like I could tell her anything, and she'll make me laugh like no matter how bad my game is, she'll just be there to make us, like, all laugh on the bus ride home. Like, I don't think we ever had a silent crying bus ride home this year. We had a lot of those last year, but she's just such a great person to, like, have to support you there, and she just makes everything funny even when we lose."
TrueSport: "What do you hope your legacy is?"
Olivia: "For the school, when I am leaving, I want them to acknowledge not only me but my whole team and be like they were the next generation of volleyball players that, like, made a name for the school. I want to leave behind a good program that can help many kids get into it because we just opened a middle school in our school too. So I'm hoping we can help make that transition for the kids and make it a better program."
Speed Round 'This' or 'That' with Olivia
(Answers are in bold)
- Libero or Setter?
- Burpee Passing Drill or Down Ball Hitting Drill?
- Running Laps or Running Sets?
- Water or Sports Drinks?
- Always early or Always Late (Time)?
- Road Trip or Fly on an Airplane?
- Send a text or make a call?
- Volleyball or Softball?
Olivia hopes to play college volleyball and study environmental science and conservation.