Adapting to change can always be one of life’s greatest challenges. Everyone goes through it at some point, but very few have had to deal with it to the extent that Nantucket’s freshman volleyball setter Bianca Santos has had to so far in her life.
Santos moved to Nantucket from Brazil in 2017. She was put in a position where she needed to begin her life over again in a new country, meet a new set of friends, continue her education while familiarizing herself with an entirely different school system, and needed to do all of this while not knowing a word of English. It forced her to initially rely on other ways to build relationships with others aside from verbal communication. Santos felt like finding people with an interest in volleyball would be a good place to start.
“Ever since I was little I have always loved volleyball,” she said. “I have tried other sports but volleyball, for me, has always been my getaway.
She learned about an open gym at the Nantucket Intermediate School where she could learn and play volleyball under the watchful eyes of high school coaches and players. When she walked into the gym she still felt isolated because of the new setting and language barrier.
“I remember walking in there and I didn’t understand anyone,” she said. “I had Chloe Marrero (now a sophomore teammate on the varsity volleyball team) who spoke some Spanish who could help me out a little bit but that was it.”
She didn’t know what else to do other than begin hitting a ball up into the air.
“I remember just grabbing the ball and bumping the ball up and setting it up to myself,” Santos said. “I had no one to pepper with and then Andrew Viselli comes up to me and starts playing with me. From then on we would just pepper for hours and hours. That is all we did while I went to open gym when I was in fifth and sixth grade. I disappeared for a little bit to work on my English so it would be easier to communicate with him, teachers and other kids. I knew once I had that down I would start it up again. I love volleyball.”
Viselli, the varsity volleyball coach, said Santos’ potential was evident from the instant he started playing with her. He said it fueled his already strong passion for volleyball even more.
“I was like 300 pounds heavier at this time than I am now and I realized I needed to start wearing active clothes to start peppering with this kid,” he said. “I remember going home dripping sweat and telling my concerned wife ‘this kid just showed up from Brazil and she knows how to play volleyball.’”
Four years later the bond between Viselli and Santos has only grown stronger. Santos now speaks three languages fluently, including English, and just had a career-high 36 assists in the Whalers comeback win against St. John Paul II on Tuesday. She has 230 assists total this season through 12 games. Santos says she has adapted to life in the United States beautifully both in and out of the classroom. She said having Viselli along the way has played a major role in that.
“He was one of the first people I felt like I could really go to when I got here,” she said. “Anything I needed to know or just needed in general, I knew he could help me whether it was something with volleyball or something else in my life. I know moving forward into the future, no matter where I go or where we will be, he will always be there for me.”
Santos said her first impression of Viselli was how kind he was but also noticed he was a tough coach. Over the years she has learned how to get a rise out of him, occasionally walking into the gym to tell him she is quitting volleyball to become a cheerleader.
“He would never look at me again if I ever seriously did that,” Santos said while laughing.
“But I had always heard he was tough and you know, my coach back in Brazil was pretty tough because he saw the potential in me,” she added. “So I was already used to the tougher coaching but I love that style. Overall I liked him. He was pretty nice from the beginning and there for me. He was always very patient with my English and how I spoke. Even now he is like that with me. He is patient with everything I do and he is always supportive of what I do. Everything I know about setting now is from Viselli.”
Viselli strongly disagreed with Santos saying all she knows about setting is from him. He said she is constantly watching film and watching college volleyball to see how these players at higher levels are playing so she can try to incorporate it into her game. He said she is as passionate about volleyball as anyone he has coached, takes coaching very well, and learns quickly.
“You see it with how well she has learned to speak English but she is so smart,” he said. “Her processing speed is lickety-split and so is her temperament. Bianca is the same whether things are good or bad. She is yelling if things are good, screaming if things are bad. I want this place to be a party every time these kids step in this gym and Bianca personifies that. She has this ability to make it fun and make me laugh during matches sometimes, which breaks me out of my normal cycle where I am all serious.”
Santos said it was a challenge at first for her to come onto a varsity team that just won their first league championship in program history and slot in as their new starting setter. But Santos has continued to prove to herself and others that no challenge appears to be too much for the now 15-year-old Santos to overcome. She believes she is connecting more and more with her teammates each match.
“Volleyball is the type of sport where you really have to work and connect obviously so at the beginning it was hard connecting with everyone and knowing where they would be on the court,” she said. “For me as a freshman setter it was a big change for everyone and I understood that. But seeing where we are now, me and the girls have really connected.”