After many twists and turns, Broadneck High grad lands with St. John's volleyball program

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

There have been a lot of twists and turns for Amanda Sanabia on the way to becoming a standout volleyball player at St. John’s University.

Sanabia spent many years pursuing high-level swimming and always figured that sport would be her ticket to college. That path altered during middle school when she found that swimming wasn’t fun anymore.

Sanabia focused on volleyball while at Broadneck High and developed into a Division I prospect. The Annapolis resident was thrilled to receive a scholarship to Florida State, a perennial powerhouse within the world of women’s college volleyball.

Sanabia was so excited to get started with the Seminoles program that she graduated from Broadneck High in December, 2015 and enrolled early at the Tallahassee campus.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out there and Sanabia elected to leave after one semester, transferring to St. John’s. The 5-foot-5 libero made an immediate impact as a freshman at the New York City school, playing in 25 matches and ranking third on the team with 198 digs.

However, Sanabia was dealt a completely unexpected setback while home on winter break, suffering serious injuries after being bitten by a dog. Undeterred, she remarkably rejoined the Red Storm in time for the spring season.

“It’s been kind of a crazy journey, that’s for sure,” Sanabia said. “I guess I’m just really determined and won’t let anything stand in the way of what I want to accomplish.”

Sanabia moved to the Annapolis area as a seventh-grader after her mother accepted a teaching position at the Naval Academy. Commander Elizabeth Sanabia, who holds a doctorate in meteorology, is a professor in the Department of Oceanography at the academy.

Amanda Sanabia started training with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, which is renowned for producing Michael Phelps and numerous other Olympic medalists. NBAC boasts a demanding coaching staff and it was not looked upon favorably when Sanabia began missing workouts because of conflicts with volleyball practice.

“It was a huge time commitment and I was feeling pressure to make every practice. It just wasn’t fun anymore,” said Sanabia, a talented freestyle swimmer. “I just realized that I enjoyed volleyball way more than swimming. So I decided to focus fully on volleyball.”

Sanabia developed rapidly as a member of the Bay Area Volleyball Academy (BAVA), playing for her future Broadneck High coach, Scott Graf. She was named first team All-County by Capital Gazette Newspapers as a senior after totaling 263 digs, 97 service points and 30 aces as a libero.

“Amanda is probably one of the hardest working athletes I’ve had the privilege of coaching,” Broadneck head coach Tracey Regalbuto said.

Sanabia, who grew up playing a lot of beach volleyball while living in California, participated in every match during the spring season at Florida State. However, the Seminoles already an established libero in Cecilie Woie, a standout from Norway.

“I liked Florida State and was doing well, but (Woie) is an amazing player and I probably wasn’t going to play very much my first couple seasons,” Sanabia said. “I found out that St. John’s really needed a libero, so I decided to take a closer look at that opportunity.”

It was a whirlwind recruitment as Sanabia took an official visit to St. John’s on a Saturday and and was suiting up for the volleyball team within a week.

“I came for the weekend and everyone - coaches and players - was really welcoming. St. John’s just felt like a great fit,” she said. “I came back on Tuesday to register for classes, practiced with the team for the first time on Thursday then played in a game on Friday. It was crazy how fast it all happened.”

Things were looking good for Sanabia following her strong freshman season, but life took another surprising turn just after Christmas. Sanabia was sitting on the couch with an aunt’s dog when the normally docile animal suddenly attacked.

It was an American bulldog-labrador mix snapped and took a huge chunk of flesh out of Sanabia’s face. It was an extremely serious bite with damage being sustained down to the bone.

“It was shocking. One second I was hanging out talking and the next second I’m in horrible pain,” said Sanabia, who has no idea what caused the dog to bite. “It was one of those moments when you wondered ‘Did this really just happen?’ It was really horrible. Doctors took photos and they are kind of gnarly.”

Sanabia underwent three separate reconstructive surgeries with the first taking place on Dec. 31 and the last coming on Jan. 24. Plastic surgeons had to insert a tissue expander and pump it with saline in order to stretch the skin of Sanabia’s forehead.

All told, it took two months for Sanabia to recover and she missed a good portion of the spring semester. She returned to St. John’s just after spring break and resumed playing volleyball.

“After the dog bite incident and everything that followed, I decided I want to be some sort of surgeon,” Sanabia said.

Sanabia had already planned to follow in the footsteps of her parents by enlisting in the United States Navy. She now plans to apply for medical school after doing so.

In the meantime, Sanabia is enjoying a superb sophomore season at St. John’s, leading the team with 432 digs and ranking second with 68 assists and 20 service aces. She stands eighth in the Big East Conference with 3.96 digs per set.

“Amanda has made a steady climb since I recruited her to our program. As no surprise, she is goal-oriented, mentally tough, and loves pressure situations,” St. John’s head coach Joanne Persico said. “She is a very positive player to coach and mentor and I am very proud of her.”

Sanabia, who has been named to the Big East weekly honor roll twice this season, has already amassed 630 career digs. She enjoyed a successful homecoming recently, recording 10 digs as St. John’s swept Georgetown at McDonough Arena in Washington on Nov. 3.

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Bowie State running back Rob Chesson has enjoyed a superb senior season, establishing career-highs in almost every category. The Old Mill High graduate has rushed for 1,332 yards and 20 touchdowns through 10 games, serving as an important offensive catalyst during a successful season for the Bulldogs.

Chesson has averaged 133.2 yards per game and 8.0 yards per carry for Bowie State, which concluded the regular season with a 9-1 record. The Annapolis resident literally ran wild against Elizabeth City State, setting Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association records by rushing for career-highs of 304 yards and seven touchdowns.

On Friday, Chesson was named second team All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The 5-foot-10, 179-pounder, who transferred from West Virginia Wesleyan, has amassed 1,582 all-purpose yards this season.

“Robert Chesson is having a very productive year. He has become a complete running back that is a threat in our passing game and does a great job in protection,” Bowie State head coach Damon Wilson said. “Rob has the ability to keep the defense honest when they are preparing to play us. They have to account for him at all times and it opens up our passing game. He is a great team player and leader for our ballclub.”

Bowie State will play next Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Super Region 2 against an opponent to be determined.

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Connor Cox is enjoying another outstanding season as the starting quarterback for the Frostburg football team. The South River High graduate has completed 145 of 231 passes (62.8) percent for 2,157 yards and 22 touchdowns while leading the Bobcats to a 9-1 record.

Junior wide receiver Sergio Andino is one of the top targets for Cox. The Northeast High graduate has 28 catches for 455 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, sophomore linebacker Monte Jones has been a key figure on defense for Frostburg. The St. Mary’s High graduate has recorded 31 tackles and three forced fumbles.

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Senior defensive end Keonte Henson continues to be a force for the Johns Hopkins football team, which clinched a share of a ninth consecutive Centennial Conference championship on Saturday. The Broadneck High graduate has recorded 40 tackles for the 20th-ranked Blue Jays (9-1), who will make a seventh straight trip to the NCAA Division III playoffs. The 6-foot, 245-pound defensive end has 24 solo stops, 6 ½ tackles for loss and four sacks.

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Senior slotback Malique Pratt is the leading rusher for the Salisbury football team. The Southern High graduate has rolled up 702 yards on 102 carries while scoring seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is averaging almost seven yards per carry.

“Malique has definitely demonstrated his strength, he’s demonstrated the power that he has and he’s taken advantage of his size,” Salisbury head coach Sherman Wood said. “Obviously, if you don’t pay attention to that, it’ll be in our favor. He has done a super job for us and I’m really proud of him.”

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Sophomore forward Hannah Maisano enjoyed another strong season for the Wellesley College field hockey team. The Severn School graduate led the team in scoring with six goals and two assists. The Gambrills resident scored two goals as Wellesley upset Smith College in the quarterfinals of the New England Women’s & Men’s Athletic Conference Tournament.

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Western Carolina soccer standout Anna Marie Mellis has made a gutsy comeback from a severe knee injury. The Old Mill High graduate suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a game last November and underwent surgery in February.

Mellis managed to get back on the field this season, playing in 15 games with one start. She scored the game-winning goal as Western Carolina defeated East Tennessee State, 2-1, in the regular season finale.

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College Notebook is a regular feature of Capital Gazette Newspapers that highlights the accomplishments of Anne Arundel County natives involved with intercollegiate athletics. Items for this column can be emailed to bwagner@capgaznews.com.

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