Last Updated: Tue Oct 11, 2022 - 4:22PM
When it comes to tennis in Western Pennsylvania, very few female competitors have enjoyed as much success as Maria Santilli over the past decade. Santilli, who won a pair of WPIAL titles while at Norwin, is now in her fifth season as a key player for the University of Cincinnati. She’s under the microscope this week for the Westmoreland Alum Q&A.
Santilli immediately impressed on the court at Norwin, as she qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA singles tournament as a freshman in 2014. In that event, she knocked off Amanda Bruscemi of Montour, but came up short against North Allegheny’s Anna Li in the quarterfinal round.
The results were similar the next year, as Santilli returned to the WPIAL tournament, and prevailed in her first-round match against Olivia Warner of Ringgold, but fell to Upper St. Clair’s Charlotte Madson in the quarterfinals.
As a junior in 2016, however, Santilli ascended to the pinnacle. She made a surge through the WPIAL tournament by defeating Fox Chapel Area’s Charlotte James, Anna Komer of Peters Township, and Isabela Paixao of Montour. In the title match, Santilli defeated Upper St. Clair’s Marlo Schiffman 6-2, 6-2 to capture the WPIAL Class AAA Championship. In the PIAA bracket, Santilli cruised past Emma Clark of W.C. Henderson, Altoona Area’s Jess Stevens, and Meredith Lee of Owen J. Roberts to reach the championship. Competing against Eliza Askarova of George Washington, Santilli scored a straight-sets victory, 6-4, 6-4, to claim state gold.
In 2017, Santilli went back-to-back as WPIAL champion, as she dispatched of Aya Yousseff of Shady Side Academy, Amelia Haley of Mars Area, and Paixao once again. Back in the championship round, Santilli bested North Allegheny’s Ava Catanzarite 6-4, 6-2 to repeat. Although she was unable to capture another state championship, Santilli secured the bronze with a third-place finish.
In addition to those accomplishments, Santilli was a three-time Class AAA Section 1 singles champion, and twice captured the section crown in doubles. Perhaps most impressively, she was twice named a National High School All-American.
Following her graduation from Norwin, Santilli matriculated to the University of Cincinnati, joining the tennis team for the 2018-19 campaign. She immediately impressed with the Bearcats, posting a mark of 22-6 in singles play, while going 6-6 in doubles. Cincinnati, meanwhile, went 12-11, including 1-3 in the American Athletic Conference (AAC). In the conference tournament, the Bearcats defeated East Carolina University, but came up short against the University of South Florida.
As a sophomore, Santilli posted a singles mark of 13-5, and she went 6-3 in doubles action. Although the spring season was cut short because of COVID, the Bearcats posted a mark of 7-6 overall, losing their lone matchup in the AAC.
In 2020-21, Santilli compiled a singles record of 6-7, playing all of her matches from the No. 3 spot. Cincinnati registered a mark of 6-10, and 0-4 in conference action, falling to South Florida in the AAC Tournament.
Last year, Santilli went 14-10 in singles, and 5-2 in doubles play. Collectively, the Bearcats made big strides, compiling a record of 16-7 overall, and 1-2 in the AAC. In the conference tournament, Cincinnati advanced with a win against Wichita State University, but lost to Southern Methodist University in the quarterfinals.
Back for her fifth year, Santilli has competed for the Bearcats in the Flyer Invitational, Thunder in the Mountains, and the UC/Pam Whitehead Invitational.
Maria dedicated time to field questions about her best attributes on the court, her major and ideal future profession, and who she would choose to play against out of anyone in the world, past or present.
Q: How has your game improved throughout your college career?
A: Throughout college, I have been fortunate enough to play with some of the best coaches and teammates in the country. I feel that my game overall has improved since coming to UC in 2018, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to compete at this level.
Q: What is your best attribute on the court?
A: My best attribute is my competitive nature and tenacity on court. I feel that these are two qualities that will help me be successful in life past college tennis.
Q: What factored into your decision to use an extra year of eligibility?
A: I am fortunate to have such a great group of girls surrounding me. It made it an easy decision to come back and compete with the Bearcats for another season.
Q: What are your team and individual goals for 2022-23?
A: Our team goal is to become a nationally-ranked team, and my individual goal is to help guide my team to hopefully achieve that goal.
Q: College tennis spans both the fall and spring semesters, with a lengthy break in between. What are the challenges of the schedule?
A: I have had to learn how to juggle my career, athletic, and academic goals throughout the past five years. It has taught me how to manage my time well so that I can achieve all of these goals at once with our rigorous competitive schedule.
Q: What led to your decision to attend Cincinnati?
A: When I came for my unofficial visit, I was very impressed with the campus, athletic facilities, and coaching staff. UC was unlike any other campus that I had visited, and I was excited to make it my home for four (and now five) years.
Q: What is your major, and ideal future profession?
A: I majored in accounting for my undergraduate degree and graduated in three years. During my fourth year at UC, I obtained my first master's degree in accounting. I am now pursuing my second master's degree in taxation before starting my career as an accountant.
Q: What has been the most enjoyable aspect of college, aside from tennis?
A: I have been very fortunate to have met many different people from around the world during my experience at UC.
Q: What was your fondest high school memory at Norwin?
A: My fondest memory was winning back-to-back WPIAL championships.
Q: Who was the toughest opponent you faced in high school?
A: My toughest opponent during my high school career was Ava Catanzarite, who I played against during my second WPIAL championship match.
Q: If you could play one match against any person, past or present, who would you choose?
A: If I could play one match against any person, past or present, it would be Maria Sharapova. She was always my favorite tennis player growing up, and I would have loved to have had the opportunity to play at that level.
Q: Do you use water, a sports drink, or something else for tennis?
A: I drink water and Gatorade during my matches.
Q: To which movie or TV show can you recite nearly every line?
A: My favorite TV show is Modern Family. I watch it almost every night.
Q: What is the best advice you've ever received?
A: The best advice I have ever received is that you can accomplish everything, as long as you manage your time well.