Mariana Aquino discusses life in America and what makes Los Angeles so special to her. She talks about her Brazilian roots and what it was like growing up playing volleyball in another country. Being on UCLA’s national championship team in 2011, she is no stranger to success and plans to show what she can do on the court before she leaves UCLA. Her goal is to leave a legacy and help her teammates make good decisions. Not only is the 6-3 middle blocker a talented volleyball player, but she plans on developing her interests in singing and performing.
Bruin Blue: How did you get into volleyball? What made you come and play in the United States for UCLA?
Mariana Aquino: I got into volleyball when I was nine years old. I played all kinds of sports when I was younger and tried to be really diverse. As I started to get older, volleyball stuck out for me because I knew I was going to be tall and I knew that I wanted to play a team sport. I have always loved the dynamic of volleyball, and when I was 13, I got accepted into a club team and my career took off. When I was 16, I moved to a different city to live alone and play on a better team in a better program. There were no intense volleyball clubs where I lived, and I knew that in order to fulfill my dreams I had to move somewhere that I could receive great competition and coaching. I played for a year and a half before I moved to another city and played a year there.
When I was 17, I was offered a contract to play professionally and I decided to sit down and talk with my parents about going to college. Both my parents went to college and are very successful, so getting a degree was very important to my family and me. In Brazil, we do not have college teams to play on so that is when I decided to look at American colleges to get [an education] and play volleyball. I wanted to play at a very high level so I knew that when I started looking that would be a major factor. I chose UCLA because it fit all three of my major factors. I wanted great athletics, outstanding academics, and perfect weather. Being from a tropical place I wanted [to go] somewhere that felt like home to me. At first I thought that I was only going to get one factor out of my school, but I was so happy when I [discovered] UCLA because it offered everything on my list.
Bruin Blue: We have heard that you are a fabulous singer and have started a career. Tell us a little bit about your other talent.
Mariana Aquino: Singing is my second passion! I am always singing on the court and with my team. I do have a singing career and another big factor was that UCLA is right in the heart of L.A. and that was one of the best places to continue my career. When I was 10 years old I entered a competition through my school in Brazil to sing. It was my first time singing on stage and I ended up winning! From then on my family knew that I loved to sing and I started taking voice lesions. When I was 14, I trained in opera style with one of the best teachers in Brazil who happened to be living in my city. It was a great experience for me to broaden my horizons and I ended up loving opera even though it was not something I was very interested in pursuing. I participated in two of the biggest operas in the country along with singing in clubs and at weddings. I have written and recorded some songs and after that I decided to pick up the guitar to learn how to accompany myself. It was a gap that I really needed [to fill] in my life. It was not always about sports and I loved that I had another side to myself and I needed music. When I came to L.A., I met a lot of great people and coaches that were willing to help me. I am hoping that after I am done with volleyball I can pursue my [musical] career and I am very excited to start on it!
Bruin Blue: You talked about how UCLA met all of your criteria for college. Discuss your most memorable experiences on and off the court.
Mariana Aquino: Winning the national championship in 2011 has been the best moment here at UCLA on the court. Off the court, I cannot pick a favorite moment because I like them all. I have met a lot of amazing people and made so many friends. People are very nice here, and it’s a great environment to be in. The school is very welcoming and I have loved all of my classes so far, which is a big deal to say as a senior. I took a theater class; that has definitely been my favorite. There are a lot of hidden gems in the academics [curriculum]. Also, being in L.A. has been great. I love L.A.! I love every single part of living here.
Bruin Blue: Describe the team’s championship streak in 2011.
Mariana Aquino: As a team, I think a big part of the championship was that we had the mentality that every game was as important as the next. It was the most important game of the season to us. We didn’t think about the outcome of winning or losing the game. We treated every game like it was the last. Everyone was on the exact same page with the same mentality. That was what got us through the tough moments in the championship. We never once thought about if we were the favorite or the underdog. We just thought about volleyball and what we had to do.
Bruin Blue: How do you prepare mentally for each individual match?
Mariana Aquino: Individually, I stay humble. I don’t think about winning. I pretend that we are in the first game. I don’t allow myself to think about what game I am playing or how well we are doing. I try to stay calm and humble mentally.
Bruin Blue: Starting the season, what are some skills that you are hoping to work on and improve?
Mariana Aquino: I feel like I am not working on a specific technical skill but more of a mental skill. I am working on my attitude and how I view every practice. I am very game-oriented and I am trying to work on staying present and in the moment. In practice I am trying to give a hundred percent and go all out. I want to practice how I am going to play. Overall, I really just want to make sure that I am present all the time at practice and games.
Bruin Blue: Now that you are a senior, how do you feel about stepping up and being an upperclassman? How do you feel about this being your last season?
Mariana Aquino: Being a senior there is a lot of pressure. I just want to be there for my teammates and share my experiences with them. I have been here so long that I feel like my input will be very helpful, and I want to leave knowing that I have helped my teammates. I am just going to try and be there for them as much as I can and leave a legacy. I want to leave this team in a good place and following a good path. I am hoping to leave the team in a good state of mind and teach them what they are supposed to do. I want to leave the court knowing I did my best and that I was successful.
Bruin Blue: What are you planning on doing after you graduate?
Mariana Aquino: It is very weird to think of leaving this place that I have been at for so long. I cannot imagine my life without volleyball so I plan to continue after college. I am going to take the six months after 2014 to think about my options and have some time for myself. I am going to keep training hard and working towards next August when all the professional teams will be in session. I am hoping to find an internship in my field of study, which is political science, and use my degree for a little bit. I also want to pursue my music career, which will take up a lot of time. I will have a lot of things going on so I plan to use this time to really figure out what I want to do. The great thing is that I have such a supportive family behind me. Whatever I decide to do they will be there for me. I want to try new things and not rush any of my decisions.