From Hawaii to Philadelphia, Villanova’s Averi Salvador just can’t seem to leave the game of volleyball behind
The grad student has nearly retired from volleyball three times but says the sport is part of her identity.
Villanova’s Averi Salvador was ready to call it quits not once but three times throughout her life. But the game of volleyball always managed to pull her back in.
The graduate student has been a key leader for Villanova’s volleyball team, which is 12-8 (4-4 Big East) on the season. But after 458 career sets played and counting, Salvador still reminisces about the fact that she nearly stopped playing volleyball after high school.
“I just didn’t really have a great high school experience,” said Salvador, “I didn’t put in the time to get recruited and I wanted to just go to school for school.”
» READ MORE: Collin Gillespie is still at Villanova, and he's hungrier than ever
A native of Aiea, Hawaii, Salvador has played volleyball since she was 8 years old. She helped lead Punahou School to a state title her junior year, and soon after was ready to hang up the knee pads and for the first time just be a student.
“I didn’t commit to Temple until March of my senior year, which is really late,” said Salvador. “But Temple needed a libero, so after talking I had to make up my mind pretty quickly.”
In the span of less than a month, Salvador went from looking for colleges along the West Coast to booking an almost 5,000-mile flight to Philadelphia to join the Owls.
“It was a really hard transition, especially considering I had never been to the East Coast before. But adjusting to living in the city and all the differences in the culture were definitely a lot to get used to,” said Salvador.
On the court, Salvador fit in right away. She spent three seasons with the Owls, playing in 80 total matches. During her tenure, she eclipsed the 20-dig mark in nine matches, three times posted a single-game career high of 24 digs , and failed to reach double-digit digs just once in her junior year.
She graduated in three years with a business administration degree, and turned her focus to graduate school. Similar to her senior year of high school, she once again took an education-first approach, content with no longer being a student-athlete.
“I thought a lot about it my junior year, and felt like I was OK with not playing volleyball anymore,” said Salvador. “But, just to see what would happen, I entered the transfer portal and figured it couldn’t hurt.”
The soon-to-be master’s student did not anticipate staying in Philadelphia. She instead wanted to work her way back west and look for a school closer to home.
After touring Villanova and meeting the volleyball coaching staff, Salvador wound up only about 15 miles closer to home. And once again, she changed her mind about continuing her volleyball career.
“To be honest, the fact that Temple and Villanova were rivals made me initially not consider it. But, after really liking the campus and meeting with the coaches and some of the team, I thought I would enjoy it here,” said Salvador.
Salvador was a key addition for Villanova, which was replacing four-year libero Regan Lough. Unfortunately for Salvador, her first semester in person was delayed because of the pandemic.
“I missed all the training and getting to meet the girls for a whole semester, which was really tough,” said Salvador.
While the Wildcats finished only 4-6 in 2020, Salvador excelled individually and was named the 2020 Big East libero of the year. She finished fifth in the conference in digs per set, and recorded double-digit digs in every match she played. In a position that is so reliant on team chemistry, Salvador was able to lead the Villanova defense despite joining the team in person less than a month and a half before its first game.
Because of the pandemic, student-athletes were granted an additional year of eligibility. So, for the third time in five years, Salvador had to decide if she would continue her volleyball career.
» READ MORE: Villanova hoops open the season ranked #4 in the national polls
“At this point, I was really OK with it being the end. But I just kept telling myself that if I did not take the extra COVID year, I would regret it.”
So Salvador chose volleyball one more time and returned to Villanova.
“Obviously, I love the sport and I love competition. But I think above all else, it’s just a part of my identity,” said Salvador. “I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old, and the fact that I still get to play now, I try not to take it for granted, even when I’m tired and sore. I just know I am going to miss it.”