By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
One of the most celebrated and decorated athletes in the history of Machesney Park Harlem High School will be moving on to continue her volleyball career at the Division I level.
Huskies star senior Amber Rizzio recently signed her letter of intent to play for the University of Cincinnati on a volleyball scholarship, marking her as the first Harlem athlete to play Division I in any sport in quite some time.
“It is really exciting. I can’t wait to get out there and start training and playing with all the girls,” Rizzio said. “They are planning on giving me a chance to be able to play this fall.”
Rizzio was a standout for four years for the Harlem volleyball team. During her time there, she was a four-time NIC-10 Scholar Athlete, as well as a first-team NIC-10 All-Conference player and team MVP during her senior year.
But Rizzio understands she could not do this on her own. She also mentioned her coaches, including Varsity Coach Kaylee Libby, as a driving force to her reaching this milestone.
“I’m going to remember everything my coaches here taught me,” she said. “All the hard work, they pushed me through a lot. They helped me get where I am.”
Rizzio is excited about getting the opportunity to play at Cincinnati and in the Big East Conference. She said the recruiting process with the Bearcats was a big factor in her choice.
“I liked the atmosphere of the campus,” Rizzio said. “It’s a nice campus, and the team was so welcoming, and the coaches were real nice.”
Rizzio is part of a seven-player recruiting class as the Bearcats try to build on a 9-6 conference season. Head Coach Molly Alvey expects great things once they get her in the program.
“Amber will bring a physical presence into our gym,” Alvey said. “She’s young in her volleyball career, but has continued to improve exceptionally well this club season. As a staff, we are excited to have her strength and power to train in our system.”
In all, Rizzio is proud of the fact she will be the first athlete from Harlem in a long time to move on to Division I. She hopes her story will provide inspiration to others in the area that with hard work, they can play at the top level.
But as she prepares to move on, she is enjoying looking back at the help she has received along the way, with an eye on what the future holds.
“All my hard work and all the support from my family has got me to where I am now,” Rizzio said. “I want to have a positive influence on the team and help them out and hopefully get some playing time.”
In other college signings:
• One of the area’s top football players has found a home for next season. North Boone High School’s Austin Baden will continue his exciting career, signing with the University of Dubuque to play football. Baden accounted for more than 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns his senior year as he led North Boone to the Big Northern East Conference title. He is joining a Spartans team coming off a 5-5 season and is two years removed from qualifying for the NCAA Division III playoffs.
• Amparo Carbajal from Lydia Urban Academy in Rockford has signed to play soccer for Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Carbajal has been one of the top soccer players in the area for some time. At Parkland, she is going to a team that went 13-3-1 last season while losing in the Region 24 semifinals.
From the May 15-21, 2013, issue