It was always Tiani Bello’s dream to play for a Division I volleyball team from the West Coast that would visit the Stan Sheriff Center.
Growing up, Bello wanted to be like most volleyball players in Hawaii and play for the Rainbow Wahine.
But as a 5-foot-8 outside hitter at Kamehameha, she knew size was a factor.
That’s why she took an interest when UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Cal State Bakersfield put offers on the table.
But late in the recruiting game, Eckerd College saw Bello at a Kansas showcase and made a scholarship offer.
Much like buying a car, the private school from St. Petersburg, Florida had much better incentives to consider.
The Tritons offered a nearly 90 percent package, a considerable savings for a school that has a $61,000 price tag that includes tuition, room and board, meals, books and etc.
The West Coast colleges offered a back-end deal. Bello would get scholarship money her last two years but would have to pay her way to school for the first two.
In any Business 101 class, that’s called a no-brainer decision.
“It was the right choice to help my parents (Tod and Tricia Bello) financially,” Bello said. “They’ve got a good pre-med program and a good internship study-abroad program. Those are things I couldn’t get at the Division I schools, which were focused on volleyball over academics.
“My choice was location and great academic benefits. Once I signed the papers it was such a relief.”
So consider Bello a Triton, who play in the Sunshine State Conference, which includes a pair of national powers in Tampa and Barry.
The Tritons finished the 2020 season with a 19-12 record and last qualified for the South Regional in 2017.
Eckerd does have the goods to contend for a conference title and a regional berth.
It’s like her situation at Kamehameha. The Warriors won one BIIF title in her senior year in 2019. They routinely reached states and got overwhelmed by the Oahu giants. Maybe Bello becomes a difference-maker and enjoys a different kind of success.
In Bello, the Titans get a libero, who doubles as an offensive threat out of the back row hitting the ball.
With her leaping ability, who knows maybe she draws a few starts at an outside hitting post?
That is when she gets healthy.
In the Department of Unlikely Scholarships offered, Bello’s tale is a good one.
“I had a shoulder injury and couldn’t serve,” Bello said. “During serving drills, they were watching me shagging balls and after the tourney, they offered me a week after that.
“It’s crazy how it happened. A week after we talked, I made my final decision.”
Bello recently had shoulder surgery and is in rehab. The Titans will probably be surprised to find out she’s much more than a ball-shagging libero.
“I got recruited as a hitter and libero,” she said. “They’ll transition me into a hitter once my shoulder is fully recovered.”
Bello credited her parents, coaches, especially Chris Leonard and Sean Spaar, and trainer Jason Saturnio for helping her on her scholarship journey.
That’s a story that still produces a chuckle whenever she thinks about it.
“That was crazy. It was so funny, shagging balls,” she said. “I went to the showcase and thought it was a waste of money. I couldn’t serve but it worked out. After they made the offer, everything was so worth it.”