WHITEHALL – Arianna Black and Sidney Shepherd have known each other since they were born practically, so Shepherd is not afraid to share an honest characterization of her lifelong friend.
“I feel like Ari is kind of, like, wild,” Shepherd said with a smile.
“We were in the Florida Keys and she ordered, like, $50, $60 worth of appetizers. She’s going to hate that story, but … She ordered like $50-$60 worth of appetizers. We all called her, like, ‘Starter.’”
In her senior year, Black wants to finish strong as a Whitehall student and athlete. It appears she’s got both of those things covered.
In the classroom, she carries a 4.03 GPA. Athletically, the 5-foot-11 Black is an athletically gifted middle and outside hitter for the Vikings volleyball team and a state finals qualifier in high jump.
Bubbly but mature for her age, the 17-year-old daughter of Christopher and Lorelei Black wants to be remembered for being a great teammate more than anything else.
“Personally, my attitude and how I respond on the court has been something I’ve been trying to work on a lot,” she said. “I think sometimes I forget I’m on a stage.
“We had a talk with Ted (Edsall, Whitehall volleyball coach) and we called it ‘A over T – attitude over talent.’”
Edsall said that Black is social and a good communicator, even with adults.
He credited her for recognizing an area where she could be better and how she made it a point to improve in ways outside of the physical aspect.
“As soon as you get a team of players who care about each other and worry about each other, not (worry about) themselves, then you’ve got something,” he said.
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
Black, who is committed to continuing her volleyball career at Aquinas College, hopes to lead Whitehall to a run in this week’s Division 2 district tournament that the Vikings are hosting.
Whitehall (16-26) takes on arch-rival Montague (18-19-4) in a first-round match at 6 p.m. Monday.
The Vikings will be looking for Black, an All-West Michigan Conference performer, to lead the way. On the season, she paces her team with 465 digs and 60 blocks to go iwth 304 kills and 110 sets.
“She’s one of the most athletic players I’ve had as far as ability to jump. She’s a pretty good athlete,” Edsall said. “Her attacking skills have always been really good. We just started playing her in the back row the last couple years so those (skills) are evolving but she’s still done a good job.”
This is Black’s fourth season as a varsity volleyball player. She missed nearly all of her sophomore season after suffering a torn ACL in her right knee.
Whitehall alumna Rayne Thompson, who is now playing for Northern Michigan University, was a role model for Black but ironically they never got to play together because of their respective knee injuries.
Now, Black tries to pass down what she knows to close friends Shepherd and Whitehall junior Bella Fogus.
“I think she’s a very outgoing person,” Fogus said. “She helps us when we’re down. We make a mistake, she’ll say, ‘It’s OK. We’ve got it. We’re good.’ And we’ll go on a roll.”
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
Black said she and Fogus grew really close the year Black tore her ACL and that she’s fortunate to have friends like Shepherd and Fogus.
While playing volleyball has helped, it’s not the only thing that brought the friends together.
“I’ve known Sidney since we were born. We’ve grown up as childhood best friends,” Black said. “I call her parents Uncle and Aunt – Uncle Matt and Aunt Stacy. Our dads were very, very close growing up. I grew up at the Shepherd’s house, swimming in the pool.”
Black said that her father has always taught her to work for everything she has, especially when she suffered the knee injury. She credits him for being the one who helped her with the mental aspect of her comeback.
It was during that time of adversity when Black learned that she’s more than a volleyball player and she attributes that mindset to her father.
“I kind of found my other self, that I’m more than an athlete,” said Black, who credits her mom for the sympathetic side.
Black said that she and her mother have a very open relationship. She credits her mom for teaching her how to be confrontational when necessary but also how to communicate with others in a productive way.
Black considers herself very confrontational. If she has a problem, she’ll address it. “I’m very good with arguing,” she said, her face lighting up.
Naturally, she is interested in pursuing a career in law.
“I’ve always wanted to go into something where I, like, help people,” Black said. “For the longest time, I wanted to go into the medical field, but I realized needles and blood aren’t for me. After I joined BPA (Business Professionals of America) about a year and a half ago, I started getting in less of the business side of that club and more into the law side of it and I placed and went to states for it after I took the business law and ethics exam. I just fell in love with it.”
Black acknowledges she’s a work in progress, but she’s made big strides during her time at Whitehall High School.
It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
“Volleyball-wise, I think my biggest fear is only being known for how I play and I’d like to be known for the kind of teammate I was,” she said. “Funny thing, I’m not afraid of getting hurt again because I worked through that. I think (this is) the biggest one: I would rather be known as a good teammate than, ‘Oh, she did all this but she was so rude.’”
Photo by Courtney Jimison | CatchMark
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