Balance is an integral facet of life, particularly if you are a student-athlete. Finding a way to juggle responsibilities concerning classes, personal matters and having to play on a weekly basis is no collegiate lifestyle that any individual can embrace.
For freshman Emilia Petrachi, starting libero for the UCSB women’s volleyball team, this balance came before her status as a NCAA Division I athlete. Having trained and played volleyball for more than a decade, she comes from a country where the sport has thrived.
“Growing up in Modena — it’s a small town, really quiet,” Petrachi said. “There’s not much going on there, but volleyball is a big thing in Italy.”
She attended and played high school volleyball for Liceo Classico San Carlo. While Petrachi played well at the high school level, she excelled at the club platform, playing for Liu Jo (LJ) Volley. Petrachi joined the club in 2013 and was placed on its Series A2 team.
The decision to place her on the secondary team did not persist as her talent prompted her promotion to the Series A1 team in August 2013, making her the youngest member of the club for the remainder of the year and the following 2014-15 season. Petrachi’s addition to the club’s premier team was justified by her winning of the region’s Best Libero award in 2014.
Her performance on the court exceeded the expectation that she would have a developmental role on the team, but being the club’s youngest member was overwhelming at times, as she wasn’t the only elite talent on the court anymore.
“Being the youngest was hard because I needed to catch up with the experience of the others,” Petrachi said. “There were people that were 35 years old, 20 years old and myself as the youngest. But it for sure helped my growth as a volleyball player and person.”
At the pinnacle of her volleyball career, Petrachi possessed veteran talent, but as a youth she was dealing with the responsibilities and pressures of playing school and club volleyball.
While she was a vital asset to her high school’s volleyball team, Petrachi discovered a balancing component to her performance on the court that offered a unique twist to her identity as a competitor.
This three-round translation competition is known as the Certamen Carolinum, testing students on their ability to translate Ancient Greek and Latin. It’s a form of competition that is reminiscent of a spelling bee, but with a foreign pizzazz that makes it just a tad bit more intriguing.
Once introduced, it became the newest task that Petrachi was determined to conquer.
Her fear of failure proved unfit for a competitor of her caliber. While learning a multitude of languages is common and tends to be innate within the European culture, Petrachi’s trouncing of the competition was unforeseen as she became a three-time winner.
She won the translation competition twice in Latin and once in Ancient Greek, two languages that are convergent of her native language of Italian.
“I like competition — I like to be the best in everything that I do,” Petrachi said. “It came naturally because I liked it and I wanted to be the best.”
Although a well-known individual for her play on the court, it wasn’t Petrachi’s notoriety as a libero which earned her the opportunity to participate in the competition. In addition to being selected by a former high school teacher, her merits in the classroom and pure enjoyment for the competition led to her continued involvement.
“I didn’t feel the pressure,” Petrachi said. “I competed really loosely, without the fear of losing.”
Despite UCSB’s offering of courses in translation studies, no competition similar to the Certamen Carolinum exists. Although her schedule as a student-athlete wouldn’t permit time to create a rendition of the competition on campus, Petrachi remains confident with her translation abilities.
“If there will ever be a competition, I will be ready to attend it,” she jokingly said.
The story of a student-athlete succeeding off the court in an activity such as a translation competition may be striking for many, but it is Petrachi’s method in her decision to attend UCSB that is even more shocking, making her UCSB’s first international athlete in nearly 15 years.
The college recruiting process is an exhausting experience for student-athletes — coaches calling at all times of the day with recruiting pitches, university visits, expectations of friends and family and the pressure of deciding where to dedicate the next four years of their life are all influences that help determine athletes’ future collegiate careers.
For some prospects, their sights have always been focused on a dream college and are fulfilled with a scholarship offer. In today’s generation of sports, in which middle schoolers end up on high school teams and off seasons are submerged in training, young athletes in their pre-teens even receive offers from universities.
However, the stresses of the recruiting process do not always follow suit. Guiding Petrachi’s decision to attend UCSB was a rare approach: intuition.
Petrachi had never been to California. Visits to New York and Jacksonville, Florida served as her introductions to the American lifestyle. Still, this time could not make up for a lifetime in another country.
Unlike most students, who are able to seek comfort from their families just hours away, Petrachi’s busy schedule also doesn’t permit the time for traveling the 5,000-plus mile distance that separates her and family in Italy.
“It’s been tough because it’s a completely different world,” Petrachi said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t visit the campus or meet the coaches before coming here.”
One Skype conversation with the team and personal research of the university were her only ideas of life in Santa Barbara.
Despite her unfamiliarity with the city, new team and coaching staff prior to the start of the season, Petrachi’s decision to attend UCSB didn’t solely revolve around her future in volleyball.
“I wanted to come to a place where I would feel good even if I wasn’t playing volleyball,” she said. “I know volleyball can be upsetting at times. I needed a place in which I could shake off the homesickness. It’s [UCSB] right on the beach, I.V. is a little community, and it’s great and I’m happy.”
Enjoying her new journey as a Gaucho, Petrachi’s first-year with the UCSB women’s volleyball team has been impressive despite the team’s struggles this season.
Her overall average of 4.73 digs per set ranks second in the Big West Conference while she ranks third overall in the conference with 407 total digs. Petrachi is just one of three players in the Big West to break the 400 mark this season and recently earned her second Freshman Player of the Week award on Monday.
She is 88 digs away from reaching former Gaucho Leah Sully’s single-season record of 495 digs, which ranks 10th all-time in program history.
“It’s been an honor to become the libero for this team,” Petrachi said. “I try to give the best that I have. I want to be in the top five because I know that I can be in there. It’s an honor that I owe to the team.”
Trusting her instincts to guide her future, Petrachi knows that UCSB is the right place for her and is appreciative of Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch for the opportunity to play on her team.
“She went beyond the role of being a coach,” said Petrachi. “She helped me with integrating with the girls, making me meet people and ask questions. I’d probably be lost without her.”
At 7-18 overall, 3-11 in conference play and with two matches remaining this season, UCSB is still young and will have to find a way to fill in the void of losing five seniors at the end of the year.
But the future is promising for UCSB, especially with the tremendous talent and competitiveness that Petrachi has to offer.
A gut feeling suggests that Petrachi will be the centerpiece in helping translate the Gauchos’ upside for the future.
For more information on the Certamen Corlinum translation competition, visit its official website: www.certamencarolinum.de
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of November 19, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.