Aviya Russo: The star freshman of varsity volleyball


Courtesy Kelly Foster

14-year-old freshman Aviya Russo ready to hit a ball across the net in a tournament playing for the 14U High Performance Academy Volleyball club team.

The setter sends the ball soaring into the air. A tall girl with long blonde curls leaps forward, her feet leaving the floor as she strikes the ball across the net in a fluid, powerful blow.

The opposing team dives and the ball slams into the floor across the net with a resounding thud. The girls cheer, crowding into a small huddle as the rest of their team stomps and claps behind them.

“She’s a freshman,” the crowd chants. “She’s a freshman!”

Not a lot of people would have guessed that six feet tall Aviya Russo is indeed a freshman. But at only 14 years old she’s a star freshman player on the Los Altos High School varsity volleyball team.

Aviya first started playing volleyball six years ago. Before volleyball, she played sports like ice skating, tennis and basketball.

“Not that I knew I was going anywhere with those sports,” Aviya said. “I knew I couldn’t continue because of my height.”

And thus, she was introduced to volleyball.

Aviya’s whole family plays sports. Her father and mother played on the Israeli national team for basketball and handball respectively, and her brother plays basketball as well. Her older sister, who is in college and plays volleyball, is the one that made Aviya give volleyball a shot.

“[My parents are] really supportive in trying to make me the best I can be,” Aviya said.

Volleyball has been a major part of Aviya’s life for years. As a result, she no longer gets as nervous before matches because she’s played so many games. Yet, there are still moments that bring out her nerves — such as the tryouts for LAHS’s varsity volleyball team.

“I’d pretty much been on the same club team for the past five years, so I’ve never really needed to try out,” Aviya said. “It was more like you have a guaranteed spot in the team each year.”

Trying out for a spot on a team was new to her, so she was bound to be nervous. Thankfully, Aviya’s teammates helped her adjust. Aviya expressed her gratitude for them, saying that they were very welcoming to her, and their energetic personalities made the team a fun and exciting place to be.

“They welcomed me when I was a really scared freshman on the team,” Aviya said.

And the love is mutual. 

“Aviya brings an ability to be effective from all positions on the court,” head coach Peter Kim said.

Junior Isabel Banks, one of her teammates, confirmed that Aviya is a star player, citing her record of consistently getting the most kills — unreturnable strikes that lead directly to a point— each game. But Aviya adds far more to the team than just her talent.

“She had this great burst of energy and light around her,” Isabel said, recounting her first impression of Aviya. And although Aviya says she was a “really scared freshman” at first, Isabel remembers her differently.

“She was definitely not shy being the only freshman on the team,” Isabel said. “But it was her personality that made her one of my closest teammates.”

Isabel also talked about Aviya’s personality when she’s playing a match, versus her personality when she’s off the court and just having fun with her friends.

“She’s a very funny and silly person,” Isabelle said. “However, when it comes to game time, Aviya knows how to lead the team.”

That being said, Aviya also recognizes the skills of her teammates, most of whom are older than her with years worth of experience. “I’m playing with girls that are about four years older than me,” Aviya said. “It’s kind of scary.”

But this doesn’t discourage her. She finds that playing with more experienced players pushes her to work harder to be as good as them.

As for her status as a “star player” on her team, Aviya says that it isn’t just one person that makes the difference between winning and losing a game. Every single person on the team plays a role and every play is crucial. Aviya can’t pull off one of her powerful spikes without the support of her teammates’ defense and sets.

“Everyone just sees the person who ends the rally, but in reality, there are so many other people that contribute,” Aviya said.