Eli Ford: Dominate all around

Austin Gregory, Volunteer Writer

Eli Ford is a force to be reckoned with on the court and in the classroom. 

“Eli is exceptionally as good as she was on the court as good as she was in the classroom,” said Bob White, UNA Women’s Volleyball Coach. “How good you are in the classroom is going to determine how easy you are going to be to coach.”

White describes Ford as an exceptional athlete and an academically excellent student.

Ford is an Engineering Technology major with a concentration in Chemistry. She also holds an impressive GPA: 3.93 while participating in numerous activities across the campus. 

She is involved in The Honors College, The Well Church-Florence, Campus Outreach, Shoals Symphony Orchestra and UNA’s American Institute of Chemical Engineers Chapter. 

Ford was born in Geneva, IL., where she began playing volleyball at the age of 9 years old. Growing up, she had a strong passion to pursue volleyball. 

“It was kind of a family thing,” Ford said. “My dad was the one who originally got me into volleyball because he loved the sport.” 

Her sister participated in the sport as well. She contributes her parents and sister to her success on and off the court. Ford recalls times when she would come home after school and practice her underhand serve with her dad. He would workout with her and help her condition to get ready for the season. Her family loved the sport, but she knew that they would love her regardless if she pursued the sport or not, Ford said. 

Ford’s recruitment to The University of North Alabama was sort of a “shot in the dark.” 

One day, she decided to reach out to Coach White, where she sent him some film. He responded with an invitation to UNA’s volleyball camp. Two weeks later, Ford bought a plane ticket and traveled to Alabama for the first time. 

While at the camp, she roomed with now roommate, Maggie Sullivan, who eventually became her college roommate. The two verbally committed within three days of each other after camp ended. 

“Eli is the hardest worker I know,” Sullivan said. “She is constantly improving to be the best teammate, athlete, student and friend I know.”

Ford contributes a large part of her success to her friends, teammates and community. Her teammates are one of the biggest blessings since stepping on campus. 

“I feel so lucky to not only play with this group of girls but to live life everyday with them,” Ford said. “They are all so supportive and everyone is there for each other in times of celebration and times of hardships.Our coaches really stress the idea of our team being like a family and I think they have succeeded at building that culture. It is so fun to have 13 best friends and there is never a dull moment with any of them.” 

Ford also contributes a large portion of her success to the UNA teaching staff and administration. She felt that they really care about students and are helpful and accommodating. 

Also, because UNA has smaller class sizes, for the most part, she felt like the teachers can be more interactive with students and get to know them better. In her Freshman Chemistry class, the whole group was super tight knit. She felt like her professor truly cared about her and how we were doing in and outside of the classroom. 

Since arriving to UNA and Florence, she had to learn to accept southern hospitality. 

“It’s not like people are necessarily rude at home or anything but people don’t go out of their way for you nearly as much as people in the South do,” Ford said. “While that was a pleasant surprise, it took some getting used to, and I had to retrain myself to say, “yes ma’am” and “no sir,” since that wasn’t something I grew up saying.” 

She fell in love with the area when she saw how beautiful the campus and surrounding area was. 

Ford believes that his year’s team is definitely an improvement from their team last season. The chemistry with each other has gotten a lot better since spending more time together. 

“COVID really gave us time to practice all of the 2020 fall semester and allowed us to focus on building strong relationships with each other,” Ford said. “While we are still a very young team with seven sophomores and seven freshmen, we have a lot more potential skill-wise. When we played our first match against The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, we were a little shaky around the edges but came very close to winning.”

White points out the teams’ dynamic as it was named as the youngest team in all of NCAA D1 volleyball in 2019. The team doesn’t have a single junior or senior. He expects the team to be really good in 2022, after the team has time to grow. 

When White arrived in Florence three years ago, there were only five girls on the volleyball team, including the beach team. He has high hopes to recruit more girls from Alabama, especially after he recruited top athletes to his new team. 

Both White and Ford are really excited about this upcoming season. The team has been working very hard to ensure it is an improved season compared to last year.

The team is excited for its first home game coming up against Liberty University on Feb. 13. Ford hopes for a large crowd to boost morale.