Above all the whistles and squeaking sneakers of other volleyball matches going on at the Xcel Sportsplex, Frederico Santos’ voice was barely audible at courtside Saturday afternoon.
Judging by the way teenage girls on his team responded, each of the coach’s messages got through loud and clear.
Santos, whose full-time job is serving as head coach of UNC Asheville’s volleyball program, guided his 15-under Biltmore Volleyball Academy (BVA) team to straight-set wins in each of their first five matches in the “Hi Neighbor” tournament that continues today with bracket play and championships at several sites across WNC.
This is the ninth year Santos has worked with a Biltmore team.
“My favorite part is the joy in the kids’ eye when they get what I’m saying, when they finally say, ‘Oh, that’s what you’ve been talking about for four months. I get it now,” Santos said. “From there, they never go back.
“In college, to a certain extent, it’s the same thing. That’s what brings me the joy in coaching. The kids work so hard, they finally get it, and there’s this moment they say, ‘O.K., that’s what you’ve been talking about.’ And then they just transcend and move on from there.”
Santos said he started coaching club teams when he was an assistant at UNC Asheville from 2000-08. While serving as an assistant at Barry University in Florida, he continued working in the offseason with club teams in that area, then returned to the BVA upon taking the head job at UNCA in 2011.
Being a Division I college coach gives Santos the kind of credibility with his players that not every youth-league coach enjoys.
Bonnie Melanson, a freshman at Asheville High, said Santos has helped her with her blocking skills this offfseason.
“I would say (having a college coach) makes me play harder,” said Melanson, who plans to transfer to Asheville School next year. “Some people might get nervous. But for me, when I have people watching that I want to impress, I usually play better. Not always, but usually.
“I wasn’t able to do blocking at all really (during high school season),” she added. “I’ve learned how now, and that’s a great skill to have.”
SallyAnne Johnson, a freshman at Enka, said: “He’s good at fixing our mistakes where other coaches might not know what we’re doing wrong. And he gives us tips about what they do (in college).”
Santos said a lot of collegiate head coaches and assistants work with club teams in the offseason both to supplement income and to help improve the quality of the game.
He also said he doesn’t recruit while coaching his club team because he mainly focuses on 17 and 18-year-old prospects.
While Santos is paid to coach the club team, he said that’s not his primary motivation.
“It’s not community service, but we don’t get paid a lot,” said Santos, who didn’t want to divulge his exact compensation. “It’s more a chance to share the volleyball that I’ve played, the volleyball that I’ve coached and seen. If I can prepare one or two of these kids to go to college, then I’m doing a great job.”
Cleopatrick Green, whose 13-year-old daughter Azana Green is on the team, actually described Santos as “fantastic.”
The younger Green, who is an eighth-grader at Asheville Christian, had started out dancing at a young age before switching to volleyball three years ago.
“It’s been awesome,” Cleopatrick Green said. “Having someone who has the background and training that he has, it is tremendous for the girls at this young age. He can observe things, like my daughter early on this year was having some issues with swinging. And he has really worked with her to develop the correct swing.”