Gabriela Stavnetchei (as told by Justin Fedich)
"Our Stories" is a RamblinWreck.com feature that provides first-person stories from current Georgia Tech student-athletes on their journey through academics, competition and life once their athletic careers are over. These young men and women represent the ideals of what it means to be a STUDENT-athlete at Georgia Tech. These are their stories.
Many Georgia Tech student athletes grow up cheering for the Yellow Jackets, while several others have the school on their radar well before making their college decision. My journey towards becoming a Georgia Tech student athlete is a little different, because my story begins in Brazil.
In Brazil, as with a majority of other countries around the world, soccer is the most popular sport. Volleyball is number two, and therefore, I was introduced to the sport at a young age. I spent most of my childhood on the island of Florianópolis, the capital of the state of Santa Catarina in Brazil's south region, where I cheered for our professional volleyball team while learning to play the sport. I started playing when I was 10 as something to do and to get out of the house as most kids do, and as I got older and the clubs and players got more competitive, I knew I wanted to continue to push myself in volleyball and get better and better.
I have always had a competitive drive since I was very young, my family always did sports and I grew my competitive spirit from there. In order to keep improving, I knew I needed to change clubs so prior to my senior year, I moved an hour from home to Nova Trento, where I lived with other girls who were serious about volleyball and wanted to play at the next level. We were the best team in Santa Catarina, and even won the Brazilian School Games in 2013.
In the United States, if an athlete wants to continue to play sports competitively, he or she can attend college at the same time. In Brazil, it's not as easy. I was faced with two choices in my senior year of high school, either try to pursue volleyball professionally or stick to studying to go to college to earn a degree. I wasn’t ready to stop playing volleyball but earning a degree was important to myself and do my family. I started looking for a third option and I found I could attend university in the United States and wouldn’t be forced to choose.
I didn't know much about what I wanted out of the colleges in the United States and overwhelmed by all the options, I made a connection with Michelle Collier, who was the head coach at Jacksonville University when we first met. I knew I wanted to play for her as an outside hitter, so when she took the Georgia Tech job in 201 and I saw all that the Institute had to offer in terms of academics and location as well as volleyball, that is where I committed.
I committed a little late in the process and my first time on the Georgia Tech campus was as a student, two days before the first day of summer classes in June of 2014. The transition from Brazil was challenging in my first few years, as I worked to become comfortable as a non-native English speaker while balancing the hectic schedule of a student athlete. Everything was new to me, from the classes to the training to the food to the languages. Being a freshman in college is difficult enough, let alone dealing with the culture shock of being in a different county and so far away from my family. With the help of my teammates and fellow student-athletes, I became more comfortable with all aspects in Atlanta and now as a senior I am confident that I can take on any challenges sent my way.
I've learned that if I work hard and stay focused and disciplined, I can achieve the things I want to achieve, both on and off the court. I'm not certain where I will be a year from now, but I'm confident Georgia Tech was the best place I could have gone and that my experiences here will ultimately lead me to successful future. Looking back now in the homestretch of my senior season, I hope every player who comes to the United States from abroad can find what I've found in Georgia Tech: the complete student athlete experience, from the court to the classroom, and soon, to receiving a diploma.