By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Pete Pollino says he and wife Lisa haven’t had to do much to motivate their two daughters, Angelina and Sarina, whether it comes to school work or athletics. In fact, Pete said all they had to do was “just add water.” It sounds like an overly simplistic approach, but Pete is adamant that everything Angelina — a 2020 graduate of Absegami High School — has accomplished has been because of her own drive and determination.
Glory Days Magazine’s Girls Scholar-Athlete of the Year was robbed of the chance to defend her Cape-Atlantic League high jump title this spring, as the track season was wiped out due to Covid-19, but she made a huge impact throughout her career in four sports — volleyball, basketball, winter track and outdoor track. And she did it all while carrying a 4.0 grade-point average. It’s no surprise that a young lady with that kind of motivation already has the next few years of her life planned out, as soon she’ll be reporting to San Antonio, Texas, to begin boot camp for the Air National Guard. After that she’ll return home to Galloway to study criminal justice at Stockton University.
“She’s a great kid who has always worked hard. I coached her for some years, but all her coaches would always say she worked hard, the first one to be there and the last one to leave, that type of thing. She played all different sports (when she was younger), and she has a great set of wheels. That helps in any sport, when you’re fast, and she grew to be tall,” said Pete Pollino, general manager of Bennett Chevrolet in Egg Harbor Township. “When it came to Angelina, she played lots of different sports growing up as we tried to expose her to everything. The one rule was she had to play basketball because I always found that to be the hardest sport, so if she could do basketball she could do anything else. It really was nothing on our part — we just added water and she did the rest. And her grades — I didn’t even know GPAs went that high. Myself and my wife, Lisa, are just very glad with what she’s been able to do, and now she’s on to the next chapter of her life in the Air National Guard. Hopefully she’ll get a good job, make lots of money and live a better life than us.”
What’s even more impressive is Angelina had no volleyball experience before entering high school and limited track experience, and yet she became a league champion in track and helped the Braves’ volleyball team to a 22-3 record and a conference championship in 2019, and an overall record of 87-23 the past four years.
“I never really played volleyball until my freshman year, so that was pretty nerve wracking, but I had amazing coaches and teammates and we really became like a family. Basketball has always been my main sport, I’ve played that since I was about 5 years old. One of my really good friends from middle school played volleyball, and her older sister played. I knew I wanted to play a fall sport so I figured I would try it out,” Angelina said. “It was different, but with the help of my coaches I saw myself and my teammates improve so much, more than I expected to, and I knew my senior year we’d be unstoppable. And that’s pretty much what happened, the stands were filled every single game. Halfway through the season I switched positions from middle hitter to outside hitter — one of our outside hitters had a softball tournament, so they threw me in at the CAL Tournament, and everything just clicked. I wish I could have played there all four years, but who knew?
“It was a lot of working out because it’s a different kind of fit than either basketball or track,” she added. “I had to work a lot on myself, but my coaches were amazing. I never expected to pick up a sport as quickly as I did with volleyball.”
She was hobbled by an ankle injury during her sophomore basketball season and as a junior she decided to take a year off from the hardwood in order to get stronger and more fit, and that decision paid dividends, as she won the league high jump championship as a junior, and as a senior in basketball she was a key member of a Braves team that went 17-11 and advanced to the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals with a pair of heart-pounding playoff wins. She even hit a game-winning buzzer beater during the regular season against district rival Cedar Creek.
“I missed basketball this year. I knew I couldn’t play a sport since I was 5 and not go back and finish it out. I’m so glad I did go back, we had a really good season. (The playoffs) were really cool. You can’t even describe the feeling you get when you’re behind the whole game and then in the last three minutes, out of nowhere, we came back and took the lead. And it really was a team effort — every single girl on the team contributed to those wins. There’s not one person who didn’t do something to help us win those games,” she said. “We played Cedar Creek at home and we were down by two points with seven seconds left. For most of the season, (coach Bob Lasko) would put me in the corner to shoot a 3-pointer if we needed it because I was good with those shots. So we called a timeout, coach Lasko drew up a play on the whiteboard, Gianna (Hafner) brought it up and Iggy (Crandell) set a screen for her. They passed it out to me in the corner, I shot it and it went in, and everybody started screaming. I think that was the most nerve-wracking moment of my life. It was so cool. I think that was my favorite basketball game ever. I thought the shot was way too far and I thought it would be the most awkward thing if it didn’t go in.”
Pollino was versatile in basketball, showing the ability to play either guard or forward, and in volleyball she played both middle hitter and outside hitter during her career. But in track is where she really showed every aspect of her athleticism.
“I’ve tried almost every event. I’ve done the 100 meters, the 4×100, the 100-meter hurdles, the 200, the 400, the 800, the 4×4, the javelin, discus, long jump and high jump,” she said. “I think during meets I wasted more energy going back and forth between events than I actually did competing. It was pretty chaotic.”
Spending all that energy in three sports certainly made it challenging for Angelina to keep up such high grades, but she credits her teachers and coaches with helping her navigate through such a heavy work load.
“It was a lot and there were nights, like coming home from a far away game or meet, when I’d have to stay up really late doing homework, or sometimes I’d have to go a few minutes late to practice to stay after with a teacher to work on something. But I was lucky enough that most of my coaches were teachers, so they were good about understanding that school work came first and they would always want me to make that my priority. And I had very good teachers, as well, so as long as you put in the time you can make it work,” Angelina said. “If another student-athlete came to me and asked for advice (on how to handle it), I would tell them to have a very open relationship with their teachers and coaches. That was the most helpful thing for me. If I had a good relationship with my teachers they would do anything to help me, especially when they know you are a busy athlete and your schedule is not as open as everyone else. The coaches are also understanding, but you have to want to do it because it is a lot of work. If you don’t have the drive, it’s not going to work. But if you do, and you make the time, it’s 100 percent possible.”
“We just sat back and she would get all A’s, from kindergarten, and she played three sports. We didn’t have to do a lot with this kid,” her father said. “Her and her sister are both excellent athletes, get great grades, and they drive themselves. We’re blessed that they care about those things. My wife made sure these kids were in bed and fed, and she gave them discipline at a young age with going to bed on time and eating right, and all those things. Angelina is a great kid with a big smile and infectious attitude. She’s amazing.”
As for picking the military as the starting point to her career, it seems like a natural fit for someone with that kind of self motivation.
“She picked this all on her own. A lot of her studies were in the magnet program (at Absegami) that has a lot to do with government work and homeland security, so this seems to go in line with her career down the road,” Pete said. “She’ll have a five-year commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks a year, and she’ll be right here at the FAA in Egg Harbor Township. She can pick any state school for free. She wants to live at home so she’ll go to Stockton and work here at the 177th, and I think that will probably consume the next few years of her life. At 18 years old it’s tough to have a career path, but I think she’s picking a good one. Government work is pretty good. I don’t even know how to spell pension.”
“In September I leave for boot camp and I’ll be serving in the Guard component of the Air Force. My detail is military police. I’ll be gone for about six months in San Antonio, Texas, and once I come back I’ll be working at the 177th base and going to college at Stockton,” Angelina added. “I’ve always been really interested in law enforcement and criminal justice, and I did the magnet program at school for homeland security, and that definitely sparked my interest. In 10 or 15 years from now I hope to have a good job and I’ve always wanted a big family. I’d love to be able to coach my own kids, like my dad did for me. That really made a big impact on me and that shaped me into who I am today. He was harder on me than the other kids.”
Pete said he believes his younger daughter has a chance to have the same impact at Absegami, and that’s saying a lot considering all that Angelina has accomplished.
“I grew up in the age when we were all three-sport athletes. We hoped that for (Angelina), but we didn’t think she’d be able to max out with varsity letters in three sports all four years, so that was pretty exciting for us,” said Pete, a three-sport athlete himself at Absegami and a 1986 graduate. “Hopefully her younger sister, Sarina, will do the same thing. She’ll be a freshman at Absegami. I don’t want to say she’ll be better, because Angelina accomplished a lot, but she’s a pretty formidable athlete in her own right.”
Angelina said she just hopes her sister is able to have the great experience she did during her time on Absegami’s campus in Galloway Township.
“The best thing about going to Absegami was I think the whole environment,” Angelina said. “I always wanted to go there because my dad did. The Friday night football games, the pep rallies — there was always such good energy around and such a high spirit level. All the sports teams support each other and there was such a big support system. I think that made it easier to get by. High school can be a hard time, everyone has their own personal battles and problems, but having that big support system helped me get by and I hope it does for everyone else, too. I know me and my friends probably wouldn’t have made it without that.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays