Aiken High School volleyball coach Malynda Young can recall Anna Tovo as a freshman playing volleyball for the varsity team. Young said Tovo was already a great athlete when she saw her the for the first time in middle school.

“The first year I had her, in ninth grade, she was already a good hitter, a good passer,” Young said. “At the time she had not quite learned to place yet. She kept saying in practice ‘I can’t do that,’ I told her she had just done it three times in a row. Don’t tell me you can’t do that. The next game she was awesome, and she took off from there.”

Four years later, Young used the word “fabulous” to describe Tovo’s growth as the standout made her first step toward her playing career after leaving the school. She signed a letter of intent to play college volleyball at Florida Southern.

“It’s crazy,” Tovo said of her signing day. “I never thought I would get to this part of my career, I guess, so it’s a surreal moment.”

Tovo credits her time at Aiken with shaping her into the volleyball player and person she is. She added a major part of her success has been how close-knit she is with her teammates and coaches.

“It’s been good. I’m glad I started off so young. I’ve been playing volleyball forever. I feel like it has shaped who I am and taught me how to be a leader and even do things outside of volleyball.”

Tovo was an integral part of the Hornets’ program over the past four season, which included a Class AAAA state title and two other trips to the state championship game. Tovo even had a pair of key kills in the final set of Aiken’s 2010 title game victory over Rock Hill. Her senior season ended with a tight loss to Wando in the lower state finals, but she amassed 590 kills and 426 digs. She was also a member of the All-State team and gained honorable mention honors on the Under Armour All-American team. The accolades were a fitting way to cap a career of successful play for the Hornets.

However, none of those playoff moments or awards are what Tovo said she will remember most about her time in a Hornet uniform. Instead it was the time she played for others which she cherishes most as she transitions to a new stage.

Tovo missed most of her junior season in 2012 with a torn ACL. Her goal while sitting out was to return in time to play with the senior class she had grown so much with over the years. She got that opportunity on senior night.

“I was really close with all the seniors in that class,” she said. “The highlight of my career was when I was cleared to play on their senior night and got to play with them. I even made one of them cry. That’s something I’m always going to remember no matter where I go.”

Tovo’s willingness to play for others is something Young said she may miss the most. Young said along with Tovo’s hitting and ability to read the court, her leadership and connection with the other girls will be sorely missed.

“We’re going to miss her a lot as a leader too,” Young said. “She was always the quiet leader. She could get the girls to do things without having to try to be strict or anything like that.”

Tovo chose Florida Southern over the likes of the University of Alaska, Georgia Southern and Jacksonville State University (Alabama). The Moccasins play in the Sunshine State Conference at the NCAA Division II level. The school is in a conference with perennial powerhouse Tampa, which has made the Elite Eight in eight of the last ten seasons. The challenge of playing competitive teams was a bonus for Tovo

“I really like the coaches, and when I went down there for my visit, it was very homey. I just felt like I could be there and be comfortable,” Tovo said. “I think it will be good. It will be good competition, and I’m excited about it. It will be exciting to play competitive volleyball in college.”

The future Moccasin wants to duplicate the success she had at Aiken as soon as possible. She said being as discipline as she has been in high school will be key in college.

She hasn’t decided yet whether she wants to major in business or biology in college. The two contrasting fields result from her love of baking and kids. “I really like kids, so if I did biology, I would want to go into pediatrics,” Tovo said. “Possibly I would like to open a bakery since I like to bake.”

Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. He graduated from USC Aiken with a degree in communications.