*Tony Alioto's last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.
COLUMBIA — Soccer was Arianna Alioto’s passion in life.
Hickman at Rock Bridge
WHEN: 6 p.m
WHERE: Rock Bridge High School
“She grew up on the fields,” said Tony *Alioto, Arianna's father. “As soon as she could walk, she was kicking a ball.”
Soccer balls will be kicked in her honor Wednesday night when Rock Bridge hosts Hickman in the Arianna Alioto Memorial Soccer Classic.
Alioto, who went by the name Anna, was the Bruins’ leading scorer each of her three seasons and went on to join the soccer team at Northern Michigan after graduating from Rock Bridge in 2012. She died last November in a drowning incident in the campus pool at Northern Michigan.
Her father, mother Armine Alioto, and her older sister Sophia Alioto will be on hand before Wednesday night's game for a balloon release in her honor. A trophy in her name will be presented to the winning team after the game.
The ceremony, planned by the Rock Bridge soccer program, came as a surprise to Tony Alioto, who found out a week ago after his wife was contacted by the mother of one of the current Rock Bridge soccer players.
“It was very gratifying,” Tony Alioto said. “We’re still in the process of grieving. It’s still a little difficult for us to even talk about it.”
Tony Alioto says on one level, Wednesday will help cope with the tragedy, but on another it’s hard to go to a game like that because of all of the memories they have of her playing on that field.
“My daughter loved to play soccer, and I hope they have as much fun as she used to, especially in the rivalry game,” Tony Alioto said. “I’m rooting for everybody.”
But Rock Bridge will be extra motivated.
Senior captain Aubrie Cornell was one of Arianna Alioto’s best friends. The two were sidelined with injuries last season and their relationship grew stronger while rehabbing together.
“Tomorrow will mean so much to not only me but everyone in the community,” Cornell said. “Anna touched so many lives with her amazing spirit and she just gave light to everyone around her, so it will be a very special game. Anna was one of my best friends, and it’s still so hard to think she is actually gone. So it will be difficult, but I am definitely playing for her and her family.”
Other former teammates described Arianna Alioto as a fiery competitor and the kind of person who brought people together, often through pranks.
One instance last year, though, the joke was on her. She was late to practice, so her teammates decided to all ignore her upon her arrival. It irked her and she spent the majority of practice going from teammate to teammate, trying to initiate a conversation. The ordeal earned her the nickname Driftwood from her teammates.
Wednesday night is dedicated to Driftwood. The Alioto family wants it to be a night to celebrate the sport their daughter loved, and not just a remembrance of her.
“Certainly memories will be very strong and that will bring a great deal of sadness, because we were looking forward to seeing her playing many years in college, so in that sense it will be sad for us, as it’s still very, very hard,” Tony Alioto said. “It’s like an empty spot in your heart. On the other hand, the spirit of the game that was part of her will be seen in the girls playing now and that will bring some joy to us.”