Friends, family, teammates gather for Arianna Alioto funeral

Sunday, December 9, 2012 | 5:39 p.m. CST; updated 10:32 p.m. CST, Sunday, December 9, 2012

COLUMBIA — Friends and family gathered at First Christian Church on Saturday morning, where the lobby was filled with flowers and poster boards covered in pictures of Arianna Alioto.

The 18-year-old Alioto was found drowned alone in the pool at Northern Michigan University on Nov. 30. Alioto graduated from Rock Bridge High School, and her family resides in Columbia.

Her sister, Sophia, and friends put together the boards filled with memories for Alioto's visitation and funeral.

During the ceremony, several people took to the podium to pay tribute to Arianna, or Anna, as they all affectionately called her. Those in attendance included her soccer teammates from Northern Michigan University, who traveled to Columbia to commemorate their friend's life.

Kenzie Jacoby, a friend and soccer teammate, had trouble holding back tears as she described Arianna as a free spirit who "loved everyone with a completely open heart."

Nancy Halstenson, a family friend, said she was one of Arianna's many "other moms," and she had many opportunities to burst with pride when she watched Arianna on the field.

Marc VanDover, Arianna's soccer coach at Rock Bridge High School, said Arianna made coaching fun. He described her as a girl who had faith in herself, always pushed herself to get better and whose face lit up when she would talk about her family.

He also brought to life her playful side through a memory of her disobeying the number one rule of soccer: No boys. He was walking down the hall of Rock Bridge when he caught her holding hands with a boy. At the sight of VanDover, she immediately shook the boy's hand away and said, "And quit trying to hold my hand." 

VanDover said if she "wasn't playing soccer, she was playing." 

Kevin Paste, Arianna's coach at the Carrera Soccer Club, said she was a gifted player who "brought her endearing spirit into this team, an attribute that wasn't taught." 

Matt Granstrand, her coach at Northern Michigan University, said Arianna was a team player, even with an injury that disabled her from fully participating this season. He said he would try and keep her on the bench, but she would still attempt to get out on the field. He eventually figured out that she wanted to be involved in whatever way she could be. 

Arianna's father, Tony Alioto, was the last to speak. He ended his speech with a poem from Kahlil Gibran's "The Valley of Death" Part 2, and he expressed his and his family's gratitude for everything the community has done for them in the past week. 

"In our grief, we find joy," he said. "Know that all of you have touched us during this time."

Supervising editor is Simina Minstreanu.

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