by Amy Whitesall, Published October 31, 2012
Whether she's wielding a nailgun on the roof of a Habitat for Humanity house or hammering a volleyball past opposing blockers, Eastern Michigan volleyball player Rachel Iaquaniello knows that if it's worth doing, it's worth giving everything she's got.
Iaquaniello, a senior from Plymouth, is one of 10 national finalists for the Senior CLASS award-the NCAA's highest honor for seniors. The award recognizes college athletes who excel in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition. Finalists almost always come from big-name, big-time athletic programs-which makes Iaquaniello's rise to the top 10 even more exciting.
"I've been voting for it for many, many years," says EMU volleyball coach Kim Berrington, who nominated Iaquaniello. "Two years ago there was a player from Western that made finalist. I thought that was really cool; I got all our kids to vote for her. You just don't get a lot of mid-major kids with that sort of recognition."
Fans can vote at the volleyball Senior CLASS Award web page until Nov. 26. Their votes will be combined with those of media and head coaches to determine the winner.
Consistently recognized as one of the top volleyball players in the Mid-American Conference, Iaquaniello also carries a 3.8 GPA in exercise science and plans to become a physical therapist. She's been a starter at EMU since her freshman year and an All-MAC player every year. An outside hitter, she currently leads the conference in kills.
"I really enjoy being a hitter," says Iaquaniello who also played basketball and ran track in high school. "I think it makes me feel the most complete. It's the perfect blend of athleticism and aggressiveness when you're jumping as hard as you can and hitting the ball as hard as you can and giving your whole effort."
Last summer she and teammate Kim Hildreth tried out for USA Volleyball's High Performance Beach Volleyball program. The program holds tryouts all over the country, and Hildreth and Iaquaniello were among the 30 or so players picked for the training team that worked out and competed in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
"If there's something to compete at, she wants to do it-just to be good," Berrington says. "She takes care of every little thing that's in front of her, and she does it with a smile. She's one of those kids you want to have around because of her attitude and her positive presence."
Iaquaniello says helping others was part of the culture her high school coaches at Dearborn Divine Child fostered-a responsibility that goes along with the privilege of being an athlete. Besides, service suits her personality. As a seventh grader she donated her hair to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for pediatric cancer patients, to show support for her grandma who was battling cancer. Last summer she spent a day roofing a Habitat for Humanity house in Detroit.
"It felt so good," she says. "You're helping someone build the home they're going to live in. My dad is a construction worker, so it was kind of cool to say, 'I'm going to go do what Dad does.' "
From the Red Cross to Big Brothers Big Sisters, Iaquaniello is always helping someone with something-and usually convincing others to come along, promising it'll be fun.
"You meet Rach and you just want to be around her," Berrington says. "Going into the healthcare field is perfect for her. She makes you feel better just walking in the gym."