By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Call it fate or destiny or just plain good fortune. However you label it, Geneva senior Chelsea Scafuro will spend her college years exactly where she was meant to be, even if it took her a bit longer to figure out what she wanted.
Scafuro, the daughter of Marcia and Greg Scafuro, will play volleyball while attending Juniata College.
“I got a late start (looking at schools),” Scafuro said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to play (at the collegiate level) until the middle of my senior volleyball season. I hurried and put together a profile and sent out a mass email to some coaches. I took a bunch of different visits to Division II and Division III schools.
“If I knew I wanted to play in college my whole 4 years and started my college search earlier, maybe I’d be playing Division I, but probably Division II. I got a late start and most schools had already recruited the players they needed and rosters were set. But what I realized is I wouldn’t want it any differently.”
Juniata is a Division III program about 30 miles from Penn State University. But that’s only part of the story. In many ways, Juniata is to volleyball what Mount Union is to football.
The Eagles are one of the most decorated programs – at any level – as far as volleyball goes in the nation. They have been one of the top-ranked D-III schools since 1992, claiming 4 national titles while finishing ranked in the top 5 on 19 occasions. They’ve made 31 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament and competed in the tourney semifinals 25 times in compiling a 1,314-205 (.870) record. The Eagles are 67-31 against Division I opponents.
“They are a volleyball powerhouse of all the sports there, both the men’s and women’s teams,” Scafuro said. “Everyone I talked to said volleyball was the main thing.”
Being recruited to play for such a storied program was humbling for the 2-time Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year.
“It’s definitely a huge honor and something I’ll always be proud of,” Scafuro said. “It’s something I’m extremely proud of and something that’s extremely exciting to be part of. There are 5 other freshmen they recruited and I’ve been in contact with them. Even that’s exciting to me.
“I know, myself, Juniata’s past and what they are now. To be part of that is really an honor.”
That’s a far cry from where Scafuro was just a year ago. As a junior, she wasn’t sure she was even going to play volleyball in college.
“I kind of wanted out,” she said. “I was just tired.
“I don’t know the main thoughts I was having about not playing. Maybe it was because it’s all I do. Maybe I thought this was the end of the road and it was time to focus on the academic side of things more and what I want to become in the future.”
That’s when the more reasonable side of Scafuro kicked in.
“My senior year it hit me,” she said. “Why waste what I have? (Geneva coach) Annah (Haeseler) always told me I’d miss it if I stepped away from playing. My parents, too. I asked myself if I really wanted to go to school and not play and go and watch (volleyball).
“I couldn’t do that unless it was Division I, Penn State.”
Though it took her a while to decide what she wanted in regards to her career, playing volleyball at the college level really is something Scafuro had dreamed about.
“I think it is, for sure (a dream come true),” she said. “It ended up happening for a reason. I could have been at a Division II school. I know I could play at a higher level. Juniata beats Division II teams. It’s not the division you look at, but the type of program and, also, the academics. Juniata is very successful.”
Scafuro will go into her freshman year with an undecided major.
“There are a ton of different things out there that interest me,” she said. “Lately, I’ve really been thinking about psychology. I want to help people with real problems, maybe even troubled teens. I thought early on about physical therapy and occupational therapy or maybe sports management, all of the things that interest me.”
In choosing her school, Scafuro had to consider all of her potential majors, then choose a school that offered each one.
“I had to choose a school with all of those options,” she said. “It is hard because I don’t know what I want to do for sure.”
Playing for a program like Juniata offers something Scafuro wanted as far as her competitive dreams are concerned.
“I definitely feel like I’m at a higher-level program than the title says,” she said. “I’m excited because it’s not just a so-so Division III scrap team where the players just want to play 4 more years. (Juniata) is girls who want to go in and compete for a national title. They want want to get up and work their tails off to reach their goals.”
The connection between Juniata and Division I powerhouse Penn State isn’t just related to their proximity.
“(Juniata coach) Heather Pavlik is married to the Penn State men’s coach,” Scafuro said. “Juniata scrimmages the Penn State girls team. It’s a great experience to be part of. I look forward to it. (Juniata) doesn’t win, but to do that is exciting and it can only make you better.”
Despite being slight of stature at 5-foot-9, Scafuro will remain in her position as a hitter as she moves on into the collegiate game, though Pavlik put a little bit of a scare into her.
“What she said she saw in me was a good utility player,” Scafuro said. “I can play any position, I have a good arm swing and I can put the ball away. I’m a good defensive player and can read where the other girls are going to hit the ball. A lot of girls can dominate the front row, but they can’t play in the back at all. They saw my energy and my love for the game.
“I asked them more specifically (where they saw me playing) because I don’t want to go into something where I don’t know where I will be. She said I’d be a good libero. I never wore a different colored jersey.”
That’s when Pavlik made it clear what she thought of Scafuro.
“She said I’d be hitting on the outside but I won’t have to be subbed out (when I get to the back row). That’s when I understood what she meant (when she mentioned libero).”
Scafuro thanks her coaches for getting her to this point in her career.
“They definitely made all of this possible,” she said. “Like I’ve said before, Annah is like a second mmom. She’s one of the most positive and supportive people I know. She will always be a coach to me. I will still reach out to her. She had a big impact on where I landed. It was an honor to have worn the Geneva uniform.
“Erik Poje, who coached at North, is one of the reasons I’m going to Juniata. If he wouldn’t have offered me a position on his travel team, I wouldn’t have gone to the showcases or tournaments and the coaches wouldn’t have seen me play.”
The support Scafuro has received from home made her soon-to-begin adventure possible.
“I remember when I was little, my dad always wanted me to grow up and play in college,” she said. “That was the goal for both him and me. Through high school, my sophomore and junior years, when I wasn’t looking to play, I knew it worried him. Well, maybe not worried, disappointed is probably the better word. Once I was back to wanting to play, he was excited again.
“I can’t talk enough about what (my parents) have meant to me. No doubt, my parents are my best friends. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.