Representing your country is the ultimate dream for any athlete and requires skill, dedication and belief, three attributes that UC Capitals centre Marianna Tolo just so happens to possess.
Tolo’s first experience donning the green and gold at a senior level came in 2007 at the age of 18 while she was playing for the AIS in the WNBL.
She looks back at this memory fondly, but couldn’t deny the anxiousness she felt in the build up to the occasion.
“It was a great experience but very overwhelming, especially with everyone being much older than me,” she said.
Despite being the youngest in a team full of mostly veterans, Tolo said she was relieved to be joined in the squad by former UC Capitals player, Abby Bishop, who she said made her feel more at ease in the Opals since she was young too.
“She [Abby] was just one year older than me, so it was good to have her there to share the experience with.”
Years later, Tolo was selected in the preliminary squad to take part in the 2012 Olympics in London.
However, in a disappointing blow that is synonymous across all sports, she was one of the final three players told she hadn’t made the final squad.
Although in a true testament to the character of Marianna Tolo, she kept moving forward and despite suffering from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in August 2015, was selected to play for Australia in last year’s Olympics in Rio.
“I was really trying to do everything I could to make Rio and obviously it was a bit hard because I did my knee and I was coming back from that, but in the end thanks to the AIS and Basketball Australia I was able to get back in there and make the team to go to the Olympics,” she said.
When reflecting on what it felt like to play in the Olympics and reach the pinnacle of basketball, Tolo finds it a difficult task.
“It’s an experience that you can’t really describe. It’s awesome. You just get so excited and so nervous at the same time. But you always get a sense of calmness because you have your teammates there supporting you and you’re there for your teammates as well.”
While she is now an Aussie sporting idol, both of Tolo’s parents migrated to Australia from Bosnia-Herzegovina before she was born.
The diverse heritage that is present amongst Australia’s sporting stars reflects the proud multiculturalism that is present in Australian society.
And despite having what she describes as ‘no Australian blood’ in her, Tolo says that she’s always known what nationality she is.
“I’ve never had a doubt that I was Australian at any point in my life, I’ve always felt Australian and been very proud of that.”
By Aaron Palazzo
Photo credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images South America