Editor’s note: Our head coaches have been invited to submit one nominee for the MLT Athlete of the Year from their team from the past school year. The Murray Ledger & Times will open an online poll for the readers to choose one athlete from each school (Calloway High School, Murray High School and Murray State). Keep reading our series and watch for the opportunity to cast your vote.
MURRAY— Murray Ledger & Times Athlete of the Year nominee Rachel Giustino has been playing volleyball since the fifth grade.
“My mom played volleyball in college, so she was my coach in fifth grade. It’s just a fun social thing, and my friends were doing it,” Giustino said.
Giustino soon discovered she had inherited her mother’s volleyball skills and developed a passion for the sport.
“I was good at it,” she said. “When you’re young and you’re good at something, you love it because you’re good. You get involved in the culture of the sport and just keep going.”
Giustino attended high school in Algonquin, Illinois at Marian Central Catholic High School. There, she helped lead the Hurricanes to four straight regional titles and three consecutive sectional championships. Giustino broke the record for single-season kills with 339 and broke the record for most career kills with 856.
Seeing how successful she was in high school persuaded Giustino to participate in college volleyball at Murray State University.
As a freshman, Giustino played in 24 matches and started in seven.
“My freshman year, we won the conference, and we actually won the regular season as well. That was incredible to be a part of. It was awesome,” she said.
As a sophomore, Giustino had a team-high of 469 kills.
“My sophomore year, we ended up getting second, even though no one thought we were going to be good at all. I think just every year, surprising people has been a huge accomplishment,” Giustino said.
Giustino’s team won the conference again in her junior year. She was also named OVC Tournament Most Outstanding Player and Offensive Player of the Week two times.
All of these accomplishments are the reaping of Giustino’s hard work.
Giustino practices on her own in the summer and four hours a day with her team during the season.
“Murray State has a really interesting practice format. We basically play volleyball games every day in practice. You can’t come in and have a bad day. You have to be on every day. You have to be ready to go every day. You can’t slack off. If you slack off, you won’t get to start on the weekends. That pushes me to come in with the mindset, ‘I’m competing.’”
Since practices are so long and Giustino is working hard to maintain her 3.0 GPA so she can get into dental school, she rarely has much free time.
“It is really hard to time manage because I will leave practice, and I’ll go the library until they close,” Giustino said. “Then, I’ll go home, and I’ll study for another couple of hours. I probably only get like six hours of sleep, max, during the season. My classes are demanding, and practice takes up a lot of my free time, so I stay up late a lot of nights. Coffee is my best friend.”
Because she has so little time to work out on her own, Giustino puts everything she has into her practices.
“There is no time outside of practice. We’re full-time students, and we’re basically working a full-time job. So I believe in putting in all the effort I can during practice,” Giustino said.
Giustino also believes in putting everything she has into games.
“Since I am one of two or three players that are always on the court, I have to keep it together for people, even if we’re losing, even if we’re having a bit of a rough patch,” Giustino said. “I have to be the person who is calm. I don’t have that opportunity to sit on the bench and take a second. I have to be there for everyone all the time.”
Giustino is grateful for the volleyball team, and all it has done for her.
“I’ve definitely matured,” she said. “I think that just happens in college ball: you grow up, and you’re are around people who are growing up. It’s just really cool to see that in myself and in my teammates. You’re growing up as people, but you are also growing up as athletes. The way that I handle things and the way they handle things is so much different than freshman year. The volleyball team is such a special team. We have been really successful at my time at Murray State. We work really hard.”