LARGO — Julia Violante experienced both tragedy and triumph in 2019.
On Feb. 17, her father, Anthony, was struck and killed by a motorist while riding his beach cruiser bicycle home from a family dinner. Last week, she signed a national letter of intent to play soccer at the University of Florida. Both events were life changing.
The dream of being a Gator started when she was an 8-year-old hot shot soccer player. Her club team was in a tournament in Gainesville, and as part of the program she got to tour the campus with a member of the Gators soccer team.
Ever since then it was her goal to play soccer at Florida.
“I can remember we had a tournament there and I was thinking that it would be a dream to go there,” Violante said. “We toured the campus and I was so excited. But I never thought I would actually go there. It’s pretty cool to live out the dream I had when I was little.”
Violante, now a senior at Largo High and a member of the Tampa Bay United club team, officially became a Gator in a ceremony in Largo’s auditorium in front of friends and teammates. Her mother, Kelly, was by her side. She had been verbally committed to the Gators since her sophomore year.
Violante will graduate from the school’s International Baccalaureate program in May and head to Gainesville shortly after to take part in summer workouts.
She will be a defender in college, a position she plays for her club team. But at Largo, she is a goal-scoring forward. Violante has 13 goals in nine games this season, including two against St. Petersburg on Monday night in a 3-0 win. She was limited to just eight games due to injury last season and scored six goals. In her sophomore year, when the Packers went 21-1-3 and advanced to the Class 3A region final, she was the team leader with 20 goals.
“I really like it,” Violante said of playing forward. “In club I get the defensive aspect of the game. With high school, it’s fun. I don’t get to score goals in club. It’s nice being on the other end of it.”
For Largo coach Dan Flynn, it’s been nice having a player as talented as Violante for four years. She can play anywhere on the field and do just about anything he asks.
“She doesn’t know how talented she really is,” Flynn said. She does know that she misses her father every day.
On the night her world changed, Tony Violante, 56, rode his bike from the family’s home off West Bay Drive to Clearwater Beach.
Kelly and Julia joined him that Sunday evening. Kelly said Tony was adamant that Julia, their only child, join them. The plan was for Kelly to bring Tony’s SUV to the restaurant. They would load his bike into the car after dinner and all drive home.
But the fob she had to unlock Tony’s car wasn’t working. They had to take Kelly’s KIA Soul instead. After dinner, the bike wouldn’t fit in the car, so Tony said he would pedal home by himself.
On their way home, Kelly and Julia waved to Tony as he biked across the Belleair Causeway.
“I asked him to wait for me, just please wait,” Kelly said. “He said, ‘Kelly, I rode here. I can ride back. It’s not that far.’ When we got back home, I wanted to see where he was. So I called him. He had just been hit minutes before I called.”
Kelly still has a hard time when remembering the incident. But she knew she had to be strong for her daughter.
“She only missed one week of school,” her mother said. “I had to get her up every morning and keep things normal. I wasn’t going to be negative. You’ve just got to try to stay positive.”
Ever since Julia can remember, her father was always the supportive dad cheering her on at soccer matches. While that voice has been missing this year, she can still hear it in her mind.
“He was always the person who would push me to be my best in soccer,” Violante said. “He was the one who was always there to talk to me about soccer. He’d be really proud of me if he saw me today."