Letizia Aquilino Shines for Beach Volleyball

Letizia Aquilino is trying to turn her passion into a profession, as she navigates the world of beach volleyball and kinesiology. Photo courtesy of Letizia Aquilino.

Born into a sports family in the city of Bergamo, Italy, outside of Milan, it seems that a destiny for athletic excellence was written in Letizia “Lety” Aquilino’s DNA. The junior kinesiology major had an active childhood playing several sports until she found her calling in volleyball. She first stepped onto a court at age 10 to play with her best friend in a casual volleyball club. Not long after joining, the coach saw her potential for more. He recruited Aquilino for a more competitive club locally, where he trained her to compete at the semi-professional level in Italy by the time she was in high school. Aquilino cited this coach as the first core mentor in her volleyball journey, and from him “learned a lot about sportsmanship, teamwork, humility, and passion… which has shaped not only my game but who I am now.”

As a teenager, playing volleyball at the semi-professional level was Aquilino’s passion, but in Italy it was purely extracurricular, facilitated by a league separate from the school system and often presenting schedule conflicts with her studies. Aquilino recalled that her academic high school did not value her athletic achievements the way they might have in the U.S., where the sports infrastructure is generally of a higher tier compared to that in Italy.

This deeper appreciation for sports stateside is partially what brought Aquilino to San Francisco. In high school, an older friend of hers who had played volleyball in the U.S. texted her asking if playing collegiately was something she would be interested in.

“Why not? Let me try it,” was Aquilino’s response. She immediately started researching and contacting schools, showcasing videos of her game highlights on YouTube. A coach from USF encountered her videos and, impressed, contacted Aquilino to let her know that USF would be happy to have her. Aquilino was drawn to USF because it was the best option for her in terms of athletic opportunities and having her desired major, kinesiology. In May 2021, she accepted the offer and that summer left her comfort zone to go to San Francisco for the first time.

“It was not easy but I made it,” is how Aquilino described her first few months in the United States. International student-athlete life presented a unique set of pressures Aquilino hadn’t encountered before. In addition to the everyday cultural and linguistic challenges of living in a foreign country, she noted that as a student-athlete she is treated as a professional.  With volleyball being the reason she was recruited to USF, the sport has also taken on a sharper centrality to her daily life. “80% of my days are about volleyball,” she said. 

Aquilino continued, “It’s been intense, tough but at the same time I’m grateful for the experience and all the relationships I’ve created.” Aquilino described volleyball as a “real passion that fuels my spirit.” She added that the connection with her teammates inspires her drive to constantly improve.

In her time as a student-athlete, Aquilino has been a libero on the indoor volleyball team and is now a defender on the beach volleyball team, which she shifted her athletic focus to full-time this year. Aquilino said she enjoys beach volleyball for its spring tournaments, the joy of being in the sun, and the connection she feels with her coach. Traveling and playing beach volleyball around the world is what she would love to do after graduating next year. An alternate aspiration is to pursue graduate study in kinesiology. “Life can change at any time,” Aquilino said, expressing openness to either path. 

On what she would say to her younger self and aspiring student-athletes, Aquilino said, “Never doubt yourself — you are capable of a lot of things you don’t ever imagine. Stay positive… Being a student-athlete changes you as a person.”

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Sports Editor: Chase Darden

6 thoughts on “Letizia Aquilino Shines for Beach Volleyball

  1. Nicely done on providing background on Letizia’s experience with getting into volleyball and her journey in pursuing volleyball as a potential career! Looking forward to reading more newspapers written by Miss Strout!

  2. An inspirational article! I admire Aquilino’s dedication, not only to the sport, but to her studies and career aspirations!

  3. A beautifully written article chronicling the journey of a young athlete’s passion for the sport she loves and the challenges she is having to overcome.

  4. As one of Elizabeth’s high school English teachers, I read this terrific article with pride. Bravo, Elizabeth!

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