Growing up in big family helped Gophers' Filho prepare for volleyball

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 14, 2011 - 1:01 AM

A family of 10 children prepared Ariana Filho well for the chaos of the volleyball court.

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Ariana Filho plays a position — middle blocker — that’s in the middle of everything but at the center of nothing.

Laura Bush, the interim head volleyball coach for the Gophers, described one of middle blocker Ariana Filho's greatest on-court attributes thusly: "She's able to filter through the chaos and get right to the point."

As critical as that is in the fast-paced sport of volleyball, that ability has also served Filho well off the court.

She's the second-youngest of 10 kids in her family -- six of whom were adopted -- and being able to thrive in that setting means living in a constantly hectic state.

Coming from Colorado, she almost wound up at Wisconsin. But the confusing world of recruiting became crystal clear as soon as she made her final visit -- one she almost passed up -- to Minnesota.

And this offseason, after longtime head coach Mike Hebert retired, Filho again sifted through mixed emotions before arriving at a simple conclusion: her senior year might not play out exactly how she envisioned it, but she owed it to herself to define the parts she could control.

"There was this battle going on for me, wondering if it was going to be worth going through all the changes," Filho said, referring to the new coaching staff and evolving on-court personnel. "But even if everything changed, it was my last year. I didn't want to waste this year. I wanted to go all out."

So far, so good for the No. 14-ranked Gophers, who play host to a pair of Big Ten matches this weekend -- including Saturday's showdown at Williams Arena with No. 5 Nebraska. Minnesota is 10-5, and Filho has a team-high 58 blocks and is second on the team with a .362 hitting percentage.

Filho has primarily been a middle blocker since getting her start in club volleyball -- after those running the allegedly closed team tryouts found out she was already 5-11 despite only being in eighth grade. Now 6-2, Filho relies on both height and quickness from years of competitive soccer. The nuances of playing middle blocker have also grown on her through the years.

"There is a lot of unrecognized fame," Filho said of the less-than-glamorous position. "At a younger age, it was harder. Where are my sets? Where are my stats? But as I've gotten older, I've realized how sweet it is. ... I feel like I'm sharing in the experience."

That's exactly the attitude the position demands, which again speaks to Filho's ability to filter through the chaos.

"If the setter is the brain and the outside hitters are the energy, the middle blocker is the heart," Bush said. "You can do everything right, and you might never see the ball."

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  • GOPHERS VOLLEYBALL

    The No. 14 Gophers play host to Iowa on Friday, but the big showdown is with No. 5 Nebraska on Saturday. Both matches are at 7 p.m.; Friday's match is at the Sports Pavilion and Saturday's is at Williams Arena.

    • This is Nebraska's first trip to Minnesota for volleyball as a member of the Big Ten. Saturday's match is part of a "Battle in the Barn" promotion, and general admission tickets are $1. Minnesota ranks third nationally in average attendance at nearly 4,000 fans per game.

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