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Ashley Fantazias passion for volleyball persists
Ashley Fantazia competes in her final season of collegiate volleyball for Mid-America Nazarene in 2010 before crossing the Atlantic to play for Portugals Clube Desportivo Ribeirense. - photo by Photo Contributed

Ashley Fantazia’s path to the present has been a winding road with its fair share of bumps and detours. In less than 10 years, Fantazia has been all across the United States and around the globe as she received an education both in the classroom and on the volleyball court.

Now, after difficult decisions and painful injury, Fantazia is ready to hit the court again—as a player and a coach. Not only will the former Turlock Bulldog assume head coaching duties for the Santa Catalina Catholic School’s JV volleyball team in Monterey, she will also be signing a mid-season contract in the near future to play for another professional volleyball team overseas.

But while Fantazia’s talent as a volleyball player might be obvious now, there was a time when she didn’t recognize her own potential in the sport, mostly because she was preoccupied with another—basketball. Fantazia played basketball during her days at Turlock High, Santa Cruz High, and Fresno City College, but once in Fresno she quickly realized she was on the wrong path.

“When I got into college I realized it wasn’t fun anymore,” Fantazia said. “Basketball was more of a bond between my brother and I, not my passion.”

Fantazia quit basketball and closed a once important chapter in her life only to discover another waiting to be opened. Fresno City’s volleyball coach had seen Fantazia’s athleticism and heard whispers of her volleyball potential, prompting an invite to try out for the team.

Needless to say, Fantazia made the cut.

Before she knew it she was touring Germany, Austria, Italy, and Croatia as an amateur player. Shortly after, she received a full ride scholarship to Brigham Young University, Hawaii and signed her first professional contract for Portugal’s national champion Clube Desportivo Ribeirense before finishing her college career at Mid-American Nazarene University in Kansas.

“I was ecstatic. Following in my brother’s footsteps (who was playing pro basketball in Portugal at the time), I didn’t want to disappoint him,” Fantazia said.

Fantazia surely didn’t disappoint as she helped Desportivo Ribeirense win its second consecutive national championship in 2012, on a team many dubbed to be the best in Portugal’s history. But just as she was experiencing the joy of her professional peak, Fantazia was handed a hard blow in the form of an ill-timed shoulder injury.

“I had some pretty severe tears,” Fantazia said. “There were times when I was like, is this worth it? For me, though, volleyball is the one thing in my life I know I have control over. I get what I put into it, so quitting was never an option.”

While she rehabbed a shoulder for the second time in her athletic career, Fantazia began to put more of her focus towards coaching at both the high school and collegiate levels.

“Anytime you become a coach you see things you wouldn’t notice as a player, so it makes you a better player,” Fantazia said.

As she continued her rehab process and honed her skills as a coach, Fantazia’s hunger to play strengthened with each passing day —a hunger that burns this very moment.

She is currently contemplating offers from her former team in Portugal as well as others in countries like Spain, Switzerland, and France. Her plan is to strengthen her shoulder as she leads the girls of Santa Catalina and then take the international court by storm in what could be her final run with indoor volleyball.

“I’m still playing and training and I’m feeling pretty close to 100. I’m thinking about switching to sand volleyball. It will be easier on my shoulders and could extend my career,” Fantazia said. “I have a lot more passion playing on the beach. There’s a lot more responsibility, and that’s the kind of environment where I thrive.”

Where she will end up has yet to be determined, but Fantazia is comfortable navigating roads of uncertainty. She’s persevered in the past and found success, and there’s no reason for her to believe the coming years will be any different.

“The future is bright at this point. There was a point during the recovery where I wondered if I should throw in the towel, but now I have too many options and so many open doors,” Fantazia said.