f you ask Cal volleyball’s Antzela Dempi to pronounce her name, she may ponder the question for a few seconds. She may tell you she first has to speak in Greek to get her accent right. She’ll spurt out a few sentences in her native tongue and end her little speech with her name.
“Did you hear it?” she asks.
If you’re going to try to pronounce Antzela’s name, you’d better know what you’re doing. After four years of living in the United States, Antzela has not only lost faith in others’ ability to pronounce her name, but also, at times, her own.
Though looking at her name prompts some uncertainty for the native Greek, nothing — especially not a name — hinders the way Antzela lives her life.
Antzela is nothing short of a perfectionist. Whether she’s at volleyball practice, doing her school work, maintaining a close relationship with her mother or being the teammate making everyone laugh, Antzela does everything with thoughtful precision.
Ever since her early childhood days in Thessaloniki, Greece, Antzela has developed resilience, evident especially in her willingness to embrace a new culture thousands of miles away from her home.
Despite leaving the familiarity of Thessaloniki — the famous white tower, the plaza full of coffee shops and her mother’s Pastitsio, a traditional Greek dish — Antzela came to Berkeley with an open mind and will leave with a special appreciation for Berkeley’s diversity.
ulietta Dempi raised Antzela, her only child, as a single mother after Antzela’s father passed away when she was just a few months old. With a household of two, the mother-daughter pair grew especially close.
“She has some of (her father’s) physical characteristics — height (and) eyes,” said Julietta. “I believe it was hard for her not to have a fatherly figure.”
Though Antzela primarily had just her mom around, Julietta recalls that she also always had the love and support of other relatives. Most notably, Antzela’s grandfather and aunt were constant, enthusiastic supporters. Julietta refers to herself and her family as Antzela’s biggest fans.
“Her grandfather, Ilo, … would walk her every day to practice when she was young and never ever miss a match,” Julietta said. “He never stops praising her and shows off all her achievements to anyone who knows her.”
Julietta, a former high school volleyball player, encouraged Antzela to try volleyball as she jumped from sport to sport during her childhood. Antzela’s decision to stick with the sport after casting basketball and swimming to the side made her mom pleased, while she also unknowingly laid the foundation for a prominent chapter of her life.
Antzela didn’t realize volleyball was the ideal sport for her right away, though. She laughs and shudders slightly as she thinks back to the first few days of her volleyball career when she was 10 years old.
“I remember they told me to go with the older girls after I had just started and I was so stressed and freaking out that I went to the gym and literally walked back,” Antzela said.
Her mother wasn’t keen on her reaction, though, and assured Antzela she would be going back the next day.
She stuck with the sport, and it began to grow on her. While her teammates on her club team were also inexperienced and new to the game, they grew together through the years.
By the time Antzela graduated high school, her team had won several national championships and it was hard to believe that she was the same girl who almost didn’t give the sport a chance.
Antzela wasn’t ready to leave volleyball behind after graduating, but when it came time to figure out where she would continue her education, coming to the United States to play volleyball was not on her mind.
But the concept of the American dream intrigued Antzela, and after meeting Madelyn Montaño, a professional volleyball player from Colombia, she couldn’t get the idea of playing abroad at the collegiate level out of her head.
After meeting Montaño, her day-to-day life changed.
Antzela spent countless hours conducting research in hopes of finding a home away from home where she could blossom in the next few years of her life, not willing to settle on a school that didn’t fit her desired balance of academics and athletics.
The night sky outside her windows would be pitch-black, her body achy from hours of practice and her mind restless from school work, but Antzela wouldn’t let her dreams pass her by.
Antzela got that much closer to her dream after an exchange with Cal’s then-head coach Rich Feller.
“I sent him this video of me from the national team because I played for Greece,” said Antzela. “He emailed me back and we started Skyping. It was so awkward and my English sucked. He was like, ‘We have a scholarship here for you,’ and I was like, ‘Yes!’”
ntzela had never visited the school before she moved in, but fell in love with the culture, the campus and most notably the team.
By the time her final season came around, Antzela was a key starter for the Bears as an outside hitter and opposite, averaging a .230 hitting percentage and leading the Pac-12 in aces. She also placed herself as eighth on Cal’s all-time single-season aces list, finishing her senior season with 50 aces.
She served a key role on the team, but it wasn’t always this way.
Antzela lost playing time during her first three years and remained on the bench more than she was accustomed to. Just a year before her final campaign with the Bears, Antzela only played in a meager three matches.
How did she get back on top? Blood, sweat and tears. Specifically, a lot of sweat.
“This past spring was really intense,” Antzela said. “It just hit me that I have one more season of volleyball and I might be done (with the sport) for the rest of my life.”
Eager to make the most of her last season, Antzela took the reins, not only scoring many points, but also being a role model for her team.
Antzela’s teammates and coaches have enjoyed watching her celebrate after an ace, showing her true colors. Cal assistant coach Jennifer Dorr calls Antzela “silent but deadly” — while she doesn’t draw attention to herself, she has a prominent presence on the court.
Off the court, Antzela’s presence is likewise undeniable. Despite seeming reserved at first, she lives boldly, whether it be through shaving part of her head or dying her long locks blue.
The epitome of her comfortability emerged when the team bus erupted as Antzela started grooving to music, a testament to her comfortability and confidence in herself and the excitement she gives her teammates.
ntzela’s determination and will to work until she’s successful doesn’t stop with making her teammates laugh or being a starter on the team. She embodies the same work ethic in her academic life.
Coming to the U.S. after living in Greece all her life, Antzela naturally struggled with English. Communicating with people took effort and learning was certainly a great challenge. Yet that wasn’t enough to deter Antzela from pursuing a business degree in one of the most competitive programs in the country.
Last year, Antzela was admitted into the Haas School of Business and plans to graduate in December. In the 2016 season, she was presented with the Golden Bear Award for a second year — an award for the player with the highest GPA on the team.
Her teammates, coaches and mom all acknowledge the time and effort Antzela puts into her education in addition to excelling at volleyball.
This year, Antzela was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District 8 First Team, becoming just the sixth volleyball student-athlete in program history to receive an All-District honor.
“She dedicates so much of her time to being a good student, but you’d never know because she acts like a normal student,” junior teammate Carmen Annevelink said. “Antzela is very determined about what she does and she does it all very nonchalantly, (so) it’s very entertaining to watch her demeanor.”
Like Annevelink, Cal assistant coach Jennifer Dorr, who has been on the staff for all of Antzela’s career, has seen her grow over the course of several years.
“To be a student in your second language and to be excelling and also getting to do it in your sport against the best players in the country is really a testament to how hard she’s worked late in her career,” Dorr said.
Antzela’s focus on her school work stems from the knowledge her mom imparted in her early childhood.
“I have to admit that since she was little I was strict and harsh on her about the importance of her academic results, since it was always my belief that education is the key to a better future for everyone,” Julietta said.
What sets Antzela apart from everyone lies in her determination to do everything as perfectly as possible — whether that be in volleyball, school or just in pronouncing her name.
Obstacles and challenges are part of life. But no matter what Antzela decides to do in the future, it’s undeniable that she will push through any hitches in the road until she’s perfectly content with where she is.
Antezla came to Berkeley and made it her own. No matter where life takes her, people will be sure to remember the name.
Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]