If the city of Recife, Brazil, seems unfamiliar, you probably haven?t watched the USF volleyball team. Setter Alessandra Domingos and outside hitter Michelle Collier both call the city of 1.5 million home. The pair has been friends since they were 7-years-old and were reunited this year when Domingos joined the team.
“Our moms played together,” Collier said. “In fact, her aunt taught us how to play when we were little.”
The two took divergent paths to get to the United States. Collier attended Holdrege High School in Holdrege, Neb., for one year before returning to Brazil for her senior year of high school.
“I was an exchange student my junior year in high school in Nebraska,” Collier said. “I came to learn English basically. Of course, I was trying to get a shot to come here and play volleyball. I always wanted to play in college. It all worked out well and I got lucky, they wanted me here.”
Every program in the country would want Collier now. A two-time preseason Conference USA Player of the Year, Collier finished first in kills and aces last year en route to being named the 2000 C-USA Player of the Year. She was second in the nation in kills per game, as the Bulls finished with the best record in C-USA and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Domingos comes to USF with plenty of accolades of her own, but through a more circuitous route. She moved from Recife to San Paolo before playing at Utah Valley State Junior College.
“With me, I moved out of my parents? house when I was 16,” Domingos said. “I went to San Paolo and I was playing in a major club there. While I was there, a basketball scout from Utah ? from my junior college ? went there and was recruiting some basketball players. Meanwhile, my future coach in Utah asked him to look at some volleyball players. But he didn?t need a setter.
“While the scout was in Brazil, their setter got hurt and he (USVC coach Sam Atoa) ended up needing a setter. This guy recruited me and I went to Utah for two years.”
During her stay at UVSJC, the Wolverines advanced to the Final Four of the 2000 NJCAA Tournament with a 37-8 record. Domingos was a first team All-American last season, second team the year before.
“In my two years there, I was recruited by some big-time programs,” Domingos said. “And Michelle knew I was there. So she said take a look at Ale. And they looked at me and started recruiting me since the first game of my freshman season at UVSC. Pretty much, I knew that I was coming here after a month at Utah.”
A pulled quadriceps kept Domingos out of the first game and a half. No stranger to injuries, Collier redshirted during the 1999 season when she tore both her anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament.
“Personally, my injury made me grow,” Collier said. “It really depends on how you take the injury. You have to have a mindset to achieve your goals.”
The Bulls have become accustomed to coping with injuries. Junior outside hitter Maryann Mooney has yet to play this season due to an ankle injury.
“Athletes are always susceptible to being hurt, so I don?t take it for granted,” Domingos said. “When you?re hurt and sitting on the bench, you?re seeing everyone playing and you want to play. You remember that you do what you do because you love it.”
Injuries aren?t the only difficulties facing the Bulls? starters. For a pair of players thousands of miles from home and struggling with a new language, injuries are only a small hindrance. To play for USF, Domingos and Collier had to leave their families and culture behind.
“For me, I made a choice to leave home when I was 16 to go after my dreams,” Domingos said. “Of course, we sacrifice those good moments. In Brazil, we used to have all our meals together, and I miss that.
“My parents know that this is the best for me. We have so many more chances here than we do in Brazil. My mom?s like, ?Go, go, don?t turn back. Don?t give up,? and that helps.”
To chase their dreams further, it?s likely that Domingos and Collier will have to travel to Europe, where there are plenty of professional leagues.
“My parents live in Kosovo right now,” Collier said. “My dad?s working out there as an engineer for the United Nations. My two younger brothers are in Canada because my family just moved to Canada like three years ago. Since I was 16, I?ve been away from my family, but we always try to see each other at least three times a year. Every time we see each other is really nice.
“It wouldn?t make a difference if I?m here or in France or Japan. It?s always far, and no matter where you are, you?re always going to miss them.”
Position isn?t the only thing that separates the two friends.
“We?re very different,” Domingos said. “We really balance each other. I freak out and yell, but she?ll tell me, ?It?s OK, Ale, stay focused.? We can say something and the other one won?t be offended.”
The two players may have opposite personalities, but they both remain confident where their team is heading: The Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.