Ernest Hemingway often referred to the valley of Val Trebbia in Northern Italy as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Massive green trees dot the valley, while the crystal clear Trebbia River flows slowly through the basin. In this valley sits a small town named Rivergaro, with roughly 7,000 inhabitants. Twice a year, USC sophomore setter Alice Pizzasegola returns to her hometown to relax with her family.
Pizzasegola fell in love with the river and would do anything she could to stay in the water.
“I think it is my habitat. I can stay in the water for hours and just relax there,” Pizzasegola said. “Every time I see a swimming pool, I just have to jump in it.”
At the age of four, Pizzasegola enrolled in a swimming club called Nuotatori Piacentini. She competed for seven years until she realized that she didn’t like competing against the clock. She still loves to swim, but at the age of 10 she found her true calling: volleyball.
Today, Pizzasegola is a sophomore setter for the USC women’s volleyball team. Already a two-year starter, she has come a long way from her Italian home.
As a little girl, Pizzasegola met former All-American Stanford volleyball player Ogonna Nnamani, who told Pizzasegola to go to the United States after high school to study and play volleyball. Pizzasegola was skeptical and had no idea what would be in store for her.
During her last year of high school, her father asked her about heading overseas. Though this caught her off guard, her dad pushed a little bit, and Pizzasegola started to consider the idea of coming to the United States for college.
Since she was an international student, the recruiting process was extremely difficult. Few college coaches in the United States traveled to Italy to watch her play, so Pizzasegola had to create recruiting videos, send them to colleges and hope that someone liked what they saw.
With a little bit of luck after a setter quit the team, USC had an opening and head coach Mick Haley quickly sent associate head coach Tim Nollan and his wife to Italy to scout Pizzasegola.
“[Nollan] thought she could work into a very good player for us and was a very good team player,” Haley said. “She also really wanted an education in the United States.”
One night, Pizzasegola received a call from Nollan offering her a scholarship to USC. Soon after, she moved halfway around the world to Los Angeles.
Not knowing anyone in the United States, she roomed with fellow freshman teammates Elise Ruddins, Ebony Nwanebu and Taylor Whittingham. On her first night, Pizzasegola went to sleep early because she was jetlagged while the others went out. They returned home with McDonald’s and woke up Pizzasegola. She walked into the kitchen and yelled her first English word to her teammates — nuggets. The nickname has stuck with her.
The next three months would be the hardest she ever faced. Living in a dorm room and feeling homesick, Pizzasegola contemplated returning home to be with her parents and her brother, Filippo. But she found comfort in the gym with her new family, the USC women’s volleyball team.
Being in the States for such a short time, Pizzasegola spoke very little English and had to pick up the language quickly in order to communicate with her teammates on the court. It was difficult for her to learn before an unlikely hero came to her rescue.
“Graduate manager Umberto Gatti is also from Italy, and he could speak fluent Italian with her and got us over the hump,” Haley said. “Umberto [Gatti] was critical in this process because he made her comfortable every day. When she couldn’t understand the English slang he would fill her in and point her in the right direction.”
As she began to learn the language, Pizzasegola became the second setter in USC’s 6-2 offense. During her freshman year she accumulated 701 assists and did what she always wanted to do — contribute.
This thought finally occurred to Pizzasegola in last year’s regional final game against No. 3 Washington.
“It was the biggest game ever,” Pizzasegola said. “I waited my entire life to play in a game like that, and I thought, ‘I am going to play in the most important game of my life.’ We lost, but afterwards I realized I made it. I was still crying but I knew I made it with my teammates, my coaches and by myself.”
Even after that tough loss, what has never faltered on the court has been her attitude. While playing the sport she loves, she can be seen smiling, jumping around after a great play and always staying positive. Her teammates notice and admire her positive attitude.
“She is a strong girl, and she always has fight in her, which is something I really admire,” Ruddins said. “No matter what point it is in the game, she always has that fire in her, and she is so supportive.”
Though this season has not gone exactly the way the Women of Troy wanted it to, Pizzasegola has kept her positivity throughout. She still believes that her team can win a National Championship. So far this season, Pizzasegola has 513 assists and 91 digs.
There is no doubt that Pizzasegola has pushed through obstacles in her life and come out stronger because of them, and always with a smile wide across her face.