Polk State College libero Ileanushka Maldonado, 19, has signed a scholarship with NCAA Division I Tennessee State University, capping two years of growth that began with her wondering if she’d ever see much playing time with the Eagles.
“I learned so much with (head coach German Del Valle)
German,” she said. “I thought I knew everything, but he
showed me I didn’t know anything. I understand the game
better. German really taught me. I’m ready.”
Maldonado played for three years at Ciem Private School in Carolina, Puerto Rico, where her No. 1 jersey was retired.
Her play in Puerto Rico led to an offer to play professionally, but Maldonado, the daughter of Imelda Berrios and Victor Carmona, passed up the opportunity.
Instead she chose to get an American education, which was valued more than playing professionally in Puerto Rico, Maldonado enrolled at Polk State College, thanks to Del Valle’s connections in Puerto Rico.
She quickly found her high school success didn’t mean a starting spot at Polk.
Maldonado and another Eagle, who played at a Division I school before coming to Polk, were both candidates for the libero position.
The Division I transfer won the job.
Maldonado began playing for Polk as a defensive specialist, going in the games often, but not starting, as she was used to.
Sitting on the bench was a tough transition.
Not only was she a regular high school starter and star, she was not familiar with cheering as Americans did from the bench. It was not something done in her native country.
“I was upset,” Maldonado said. “This was difficult.”
The determined Maldonado decided to do everything she could to start.
She adapted and changed.
“I learned to be positive and not give up,” she said. “I cheered and tried to show support for my teammates
On the court, I tried to make it happen. I started doing more things. I was communicating more.”
She won her position back, as well as something else.
“I was proud,” she said. “I always tried to get better. I knew it would build my character. I played with a good attitude.”
Her willingness to “buy in” to Del Valle’s system helped Maldonado reach her goal.
“I wanted to play Division I volleyball and leave Florida,” she said.
Her bolstered confidence should help her at Tennessee State, where she will most likely start.
“I’ll be the only libero,” she said of what the Tennessee State University coach Kathy Roulhac told her.
“It’s awesome,” Maldonado said of the opportunity. “She told me I will be on the court with a lot of expectations.”
Maldonado’s ultimate goal is to eventually play professionally in Puerto Rico and hopefully in Brazil.
“I want to be someone important,” she said. “I want to be an inspiration to others.”
Del Valle is proud Maldonado’s success.
“Ilea brought the passion, competition and experience to our program,” he said. “When you talk about mental toughness, we are definitely talking about Ileanushka Maldonado.”