Santasofia has big shoes to fill, having taken over as the new head coach of the West Orange High girls volleyball program.
At this moment, there are dozens — if not hundreds — of job openings around the state for high-school head coaches.
Few, if any, are quite like the opening West Orange High just filled for its girls volleyball program.
That’s because the Warriors are coming off a season during which they went 29-0 and won the program’s first state championship.
Even before West Orange won its state title, former head coach Ross Usie already had been contemplating stepping aside to focus on starting a family with his wife, who he married the same weekend as the championship match. The Warriors’ undefeated run put a bow on Usie’s seven-year stint as head coach of the program — and created one of the most attractive job openings in the state.
In late May, Athletic Director Jerry Shafer confirmed that opening had been filled by Roberto Santasofia, a longtime coach and recruiting coordinator for Orlando Tampa Volleyball Academy.
A veteran of Central Florida’s ultra-competitive travel volleyball scene and a former college coach, Santasofia said last week that he understands that he will have big shoes to fill in Winter Garden.
“To me, it’s an honor, to step into a program that was very successful last year — I do have a lot of pressure, too, but I’m very excited,” Santasofia said. “The previous coach was very successful. (Usie) left something very good here, and I’m just going to try and continue that.”
Santasofia may be a newcomer to coaching at a high school, but he brings a wealth of experience on several levels. A native of Brazil, Santasofia began his professional volleyball career when he was 15 and signed to play libero for Papel Report Suzano — one of the country’s top professional clubs.
After winning two national championships in Brazil as a player, Santasofia came to the United States and began coaching. For eight years he served as an assistant at Rollins College, where the Tars were ranked nationally four times. He also has been coaching for a decade at OTVA, where he has coached nationally competitive club teams and helped players go on to college careers at schools ranging from Princeton to Florida State to North Carolina.
“What I’m trying to do is to share the experience that I have as a player to develop these kids and prepare these kids to go to college,” Santasofia said. “I’ve been on the other side, too, as a college coach — I know what it takes for the kids to get to that level.”
As a former libero, Santasofia said fans of the Warriors can expect to see a team that emphasizes ball control on the court.
“Kids that I coach — we try to develop a lot of ball control,” Santasofia said. “When I was younger, I was not the tallest player on my team, but I had very good ball control. As long as you have ball control, you can still survive. Effort, hustle plays — those are huge things we are going to be working on.”
Although the Warriors graduated a handful of talented seniors from last year’s team, the roster also features several dynamic returning players, such as Taylor Head, Torey Baum and Kaeli Crews. Through his role at OTVA, Santasofia said he has coached and trained Head and Baum previously, and he is familiar with most of the team’s other players.
He said he is up to the challenge of coaching such high-caliber players and helping them to play as a cohesive unit that hopefully will be a state-title contender once again in 2018.
“To me, it’s always a challenge, and I think it’s all about kids believing in what you do,” Santasofia said. “You have to show these kids, the talent of players we have, that you have a lot of knowledge (as a coach).”