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Aristea Tondai: "U.S. the best choice for me"

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What inspired you to come to America to play volleyball? Why did you choose the U.S?
The first time I thought of America as an option was in high school when I started preparing for the Panhellenic Examinations. That was when I realized that I would have to choose between volleyball and school/getting a degree, not only during my preparation for the Panhellenic Examinations but also while I would be studying in a Greek university.  The U.S. seemed to be the best choice because not only can one combine their academic and athletic careers, but also because I would be able to focus on becoming a better player which would give me a great opportunity to develop as an exceptional athlete. Furthermore, I have always liked to surround myself in new environments, try new things, and live outside Greece even if it is for a short period of time.

What were some of your concerns and expectations regarding college sports in the U.S.? What was the criteria that helped you determine your choice of university?
One of my concerns was the differences between European and American volleyball both from a technical and a mental point of view and to what extent I would be affected by it. The truth is that in the U.S., coaches focus more on strength and conditioning, something that unfortunately does not happen much in Greece or at least with great consistency, and I was worried that I would be behind in that area. However, I believe that the girls that made it to the U.S. from Greece have more experience because of high level games and from practicing with older teammates, which does not happen in America. I chose UNC because it is an excellent school academically and has a very strong athletics program.

When did you start the process of searching for a university, are you happy with your decision, do you have any stories to share from your experience, something that you will remember forever?
I began the university search process towards the end of 11th grade. I am very happy with the decision I made because apart from having a very strong academic and athletic department, UNC has helped me build a diverse network of friends that have allowed me to see things from a different perspective. A pivotal moment in my life was during my freshman year when I was at a different university which for various reasons, I realized was not the right place for me to be. It was relatively easy for me to look for a different school but at the same time I was surprised by how much I learned that year. Just by going through the recruiting process, I felt like I learned so many different things. I had to get in touch with coaches and discover how to “promote” myself, learn how to accept rejection from them, and make important decisions that will affect my life in the long run. Who could have imagined that a 17-year-old would have to go through all these eye opening and crucial experiences at such a young age?

What advice would you give other athletes that are considering following a path similar to yours? What do you have to say to the parents and athletes that are considering to begin this journey?
I would tell them that if they are considering to follow a similar path, even if they are not sure, they should definitely try it because you never know what opportunities may emerge during this process. I would also advise them that if they decide to take this step, to make sure that this decision is 100% theirs and has not been imposed on them by anyone else. Even though this is a unique experience, the life of a student-athlete is not easy and if one does not truly want it, it will be very difficult for them to meet the expectations. If something were to ever go wrong, which I hope not, it is much better to happen knowing that this was their personal choice and take full responsibility for it. Moreover, I believe that good communication is necessary during the recruiting stage. It is important to have a clear picture of what they want and what they expect from their coaches, as well as the ways they intend to help their team and teammates become better.  Moreover, it is necessary to do extensive research on the university, the area, the coaches, the curricula, and the team culture because it can vary significantly from team to team. It would be great to make time for a formal visit to the university that interests them because there is no better way to decide. Even if they have already made up their mind on what school they want to go to, this will help them prepare even more. As for the parents, I would say to help their children when and if they need it and to support any decision they make.

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What are your thoughts on Nomos, their project, and the services they provided to you?
I think it is very helpful to have someone by your side to guide you during this process who has experience in this field because personally, when I began this journey, I did not know many fundamental things about American universities and college sports. In addition to that, there is a lot of bureaucracy involved throughout this process and Nomos’ guidance made it a lot easier.

The conference in which you play is very competitive in the Fall and you made exceptional appearances. What are the team’s goals for the future?
My team’s goals for the next few months is to be at the top of the ACC and to secure our entry to the national tournament. However, both our physical and mental health is a priority right now because this past year has been hard on everyone. I hope that this has made us realize that without our health, all the above goals are impossible.

With this being your senior year, what are your plans for the future both from a career and athletic standpoint?
I honestly find it very strange that this is my last semester at UNC and the truth is the pandemic has made it very difficult for me to plan for my future. At the moment I am trying to explore all my options, whether they include volleyball or not.


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