There is a look that Arianna Person gets in her eye when she knows she has work to do.
St. James Academy volleyball coach Nancy Dorsey said it is not something you can explain, but as soon as you see it you know to get out of her way.
Dorsey has seen the look many times, but two instances stand out above the rest. She said Person — also known as “AP” — had it while recovering from her ACL injury her sophomore year. More recently, Person had it during the Kansas Class 5A volleyball championship match when top-ranked and undefeated St. James dropped its first set of the season.
Both of those situations define why Person is being recognized as The Star’s female Scholar-Athlete of the year.
A part of Person still blames herself for her ACL injury. She said she really shouldn’t have even been playing because she had been in the hospital for about a week battling mononucleosis. She lost 20 pounds because her throat was too sore to eat or drink.
On a fast break on the basketball court, she cut to the goal for a layup but got too far under the basket and watched the ball sail over the backboard as she tried to pivot. It did not hurt at first, but Person soon realized she could not stand up.
“It was one bad decision after the other,” Person said, pensively.
After the injury, she went through six grueling months of physical therapy and met with a personal trainer in an attempt to get back into shape for her three sports — volleyball, basketball and track. She put specific focus on recovering her now 33-inch vertical jump, which allowed her to overcome her slight height disadvantage as a 5-foot-8 hitter on the volleyball team.
“It was like she was telling herself that she was not going to let it beat her,” said Person’s father, Lorenzo. “Everybody told her she would probably never get her vertical back and she just didn’t want to hear it. She proved all of them wrong.”
In the volleyball state championship match, Person had a similar reaction. St. James was facing rival St. Thomas Aquinas, when the Thunder lost its first set of the season. In the shock that followed, Dorsey remembers turning to Person and asking if she was going to let this happen. She answered with a resounding “NO” and proceeded to lead St. James to a 25-11, 19-25, 25-17 victory and its fourth state title in Person’s tenure.
Person, who is the third of four children, grew up watching her older sister play volleyball, and as soon as she was old enough she started playing, too. She said her first team was so bad it could blow a 23-10 lead and lose 25-23, but she would not be on that level for long. By the time she reached fifth grade, Person was already being recruited by the Missouri MAVS club program.
“When I saw her play, the things that impressed me were her speed and quickness, and then her vertical jump,” MAVS director Janice Van Gorp said. “She didn’t have very much ball control, but those two things were so impressive.”
From there, Person blossomed.
The MAVS won a national title in 2008 and followed that with second- and third-place finishes her next two seasons. Then at St. James Academy, she earned a varsity spot as a freshman and went on to win four state championships while breaking the all-time record with 1,236 kills. She also ranks third in school history with 944 digs and 127 assists.
Athletic success did not always come easily, though.
In the same year that she battled mononucleosis and her ACL injury, Person’s classmate and close friend, Connor McCullough, passed away and her father suffered a stroke at 48 years old. Her sister Tashayla, who played volleyball at the University of Sioux Falls, also tore her labrum and part of her bicep, which ended her career.
So much devastation for a teenager. But Person credits a prayer service after McCullough’s death for helping her grow and get through the hard times.
“It changed my perspective on suffering,” Person said. “Suffering is actually more of a gift than a curse, but it is hard to see it in the moment.”
Around that same time, she fell in love with reading. Her mother, Carri, said she was always the kind of kid with a flashlight under the covers. Person grew a new appreciation in her months away from sports. She also poured herself into school, where she came to love classes such as English, anatomy, physics and American history, which was taught by Dorsey.
After her ACL injury, Person set her sights on returning for the Metro Sports Volleyball Slam. She started practicing again one week before the tournament, which was a little less than six months after her surgery. On the volleyball court, she switched from the left side to the right for the first couple of weeks, minimizing lateral movement. But soon she returned to the left side, where she flourished without pain.
As she got stronger, colleges started to take notice. Most attention came from Georgia Southern and Belmont University. Person originally decided on Georgia Southern, but after that coach left for Wyoming, she decided to reopen her commitment. Belmont had not yet filled her spot, so she saw that as a sign that maybe she should not turn them down twice. Then, the Belmont coach coach left as well, but Person decided to stick with assistant coach Tony Howell, who was promoted.
With that decision out of the way, Person was able to settle in and enjoy her senior year of high school, which included an undefeated run to the Kansas Class 5A volleyball state title.
“She is a completely different person from when she walked in the door,” Dorsey said. “She is more comfortable sharing a piece of her heart and being the insanely awesome person that she is. She brings so much joy to everyone in her life.”
In addition, Person was selected The Star’s All-Metro volleyball player of the year.
“I kind of had that fantasy that high school was never going to end and I would be there forever,” said Person, who hopes to channel her love of children into a career as a nurse practitioner, maybe working in a pediatric oncology unit. “But at the same time, I’m excited to move on to other things, bigger things.”
To reach Kathleen Gier, call 816-234-4875 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ST. JAMES ACADEMY
Has 90.72 grade-point average on 100 scale. Won four varsity letters in volleyball, three varsity letters in track and field and one varsity letter in basketball. Kansas Class 5A player of the year and KC Star All-Metro player of the year in volleyball. State champion in the 1,600-meter relay. Four-year member of the Lemon Club, which benefits childhood cancer research. Volunteered at Kansas City Food Kitchen.
Also nominated: Steven Enna, Julianne Smith