Oct. 7, 2016

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Lexi Riccolo is on track to graduate in the spring from the Frank Batten School for Public Policy and Leadership. When that happy day arrives for Riccolo, no one will ever say she didn’t make the most of her time on Grounds.

In addition to her studies in the Batten School, where her concentration is social entrepreneurship, Riccolo is in her fourth season on the University of Virginia volleyball team. She’s a vice president of UVA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, through which she works with the One Shirt One Body initiative and the One Love Foundation, among other groups.

She took part in the Leadership 2K summer program, during which she discussed University issues with other student leaders, and represented UVA at the 2015 ACC Leadership Conference at Notre Dame.

Riccolo volunteers for Special Olympics with her volleyball teammates and serves on the fundraising committee for Pancakes for Parkinson’s, which is next weekend on Grounds. UVA’s largest student-run fundraising organization, Pancakes for Parkinson’s benefits the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

In 2015, Riccolo studied in Spain as part of the UVA in Valencia summer program, and this summer she worked as an intern in Washington, D.C., for the non-profit organization Every Child Matters, a child advocacy group.


“I’m really busy,” Riccolo acknowledged with a laugh.

She has no plans to slow down after graduation. She’s in the process of applying, through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, for a position in the Czech Republic, where she would help teach English for a year in a school.

Then, she hopes, will come law school, perhaps at UVA. (Two of Riccolo’s teammates, Jasmine Burton and Haley Kole, plan to enroll in law school next year.)

In volleyball, Riccolo has progressed from a recruited walk-on to a scholarship player on a team that has two matches at Memorial Gymnasium this weekend.

Riccolo is happy to be back at Mem Gym, where the Wahoos played only two matches in September.

“When it’s packed and everyone’s cheering,” she said, “it really changes the game and puts momentum on our side of the court.”

Virginia (3-13 overall, 0-4 ACC) hosts Georgia Tech (12-5, 3-2) on Friday and Clemson (5-12, 0-5) on Saturday. Each match will start at 7 p.m.

Riccolo is in her third year as one of the Cavaliers’ liberos, and she’s having her best season, head coach Dennis Hohenshelt said. But she adds more to the program than her passing and digging skills.

“Lexi has been unbelievable as a leader, everything I hoped for,” Hohenshelt said, “and part of that is just her drive. I think she gets it a little bit from her parents. Her parents are driven people, and I like that about them a lot.”

The Riccolos live in Wheaton, Ill., about 30 miles west of Chicago. Lexi’s father, Doug, works in real estate investment, and her mother, Lora, is a dentist.

Her parents are University of Iowa graduates, but Riccolo looked beyond the Midwest as she explored her college options.

“I wanted something that was really good for academics as well as athletics, and Virginia immediately caught my eye,” said Riccolo, a graduate of St. Francis High School in Wheaton.

“I went on a college tour with my dad and little sister where we drove all up and down the East Coast, and Virginia just really stood out for me. I wasn’t getting a lot of looks from the coaches at the time, and I decided I was going to apply anyway.”

Hohenshelt said: “It was one of those things where she was pretty active in recruiting us. She was pretty adamant that this was one of the places that she wanted to go to school, whether she was going to play volleyball or not. That was the thing that was up in the air.

“But we got to watch her play a little bit more in the fall and the spring, and we felt pretty comfortable with her and what she wanted, and we just thought it was a good fit. It was kind of a mutual recruiting.”

Riccolo agreed. “I was planning to apply here either way, because I loved it so much, and the volleyball just ended up working out.”

She wasn’t sure what to expect when she joined the team in the summer of 2013, but Riccolo ended up starting 26 matches as a defensive specialist.

Her goals had been simple: work hard in practice as a freshman and help the team in whatever way she could. “So to come in and have a starting role on the team my first year was really something special and something that I’m very proud of,” Riccolo said.

In 2013, the Wahoos finished with an 18-14 record, their first winning season in five years. They posted overall records of 17-14 in 2014 and 18-13 in 2015, and in each of Riccolo’s first three seasons they were .500 better in ACC play.

This season, though, has been a struggle for a team that has five freshmen playing regularly: Kelsey Miller, Jane Horner, Chino Anukwuem, Kiley Banker and Jennifer Wineholt.

This is the youngest team Hohenshelt has had in his six seasons at UVA, and it shows. The first-year class is talented, but its inexperience has been apparent in key moments.

“I don’t like the record in any way, shape or form, but I’m also not down on the kids,” Hohenshelt said, “because we just have to figure it out with this group.”

Riccolo said: “We’re so close in all our games, and we just need that little extra push. And I think with so many young girls, once they figure out how to tap into that potential and get that final push, it’s going to be good from there on out.”

The team’s upperclassmen include three Batten School students: Riccolo, Burton and junior Haley Fauntleroy. For Riccolo, who has been involved in so many endeavors at UVA, her time in the program has been a highlight.

“The community within Batten is amazing,” Riccolo said. “There’s 70-something kids in my class, so we really get to know each other and we really are able to push each other to learn. The professors, the staff, everyone is there to help you and teach you and better educate you on these issues.

“It’s been the most amazing experience.”

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