Norwin junior seeks karate championship
As the infamous New Year's Eve's ball drops in New York's Times Square this year to usher in 2009, the time on Norwin junior Ali Viola's wrist watch will read 9 p.m. But there won't be anything wrong with her timepiece, as her friends in North Huntingdon will have celebrated the arrival of the new year three hours earlier than she will.
Viola will be celebrating New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in Sacramento, Calif.
She will be pursuing her second National Black Belt League Featherweight world title. She won her first title in Buffalo in 2006 when she was 14 years old.
Viola will be competing against 2,500 opponents from around the globe in the Point Fighting Division, for ages 15-17, in The International World Games, commonly referred to as "Super Grands," and recognized as the Super Bowl for martial arts.
Viola will take some lofty credentials to Sacramento. She has claimed four national and five Pennsylvania sparring titles to go with her world title and is the top-ranked female in the lightweight division in North America. Viola is also the only Pittsburgh-area female to cop a National Black Belt League sparring world title.
Specifically, the 5-foot-8-inch Viola participates in the continuous sparring division, a combination of kickboxing and point fighting that continues non-stop for two rounds at a time. Endurance and physical toughness are prerequisites necessary to compete in continuous sparring matches. Broken ribs, noses, and/or other injuries are part of continuous sparring and Viola admits to having broken her nose several times, as well as ribs.
"Karate is a rough sport. It is full-contact," she said.
Viola's introduction to martial arts, which she explained "incorporates learning how to defend yourself and advancing through the belt system," started when she was 3 years old when she began taking karate classes in her father's Allegheny Shotokan Karate School in North Huntingdon.
Her father, Bill Viola, has owned the school since 1969.
But there is more on Viola's plate than just martial arts.
This past soccer season, Viola became the Norwin girls soccer team's starting goalkeeper eight games into the schedule and led the Knights to a berth in the WPIAL AAA semi-finals.
"Ali's performance in goal was a pivotal part of our success," Norwin girls soccer coach Dana Ferry said. "Her regular season went very well and she peaked in the playoffs as her goal against average went down while her save percentage went up."
Viola's regular-season goals-against average was .885, a figure she reduced to .716 during the playoffs, against three of the top teams in the WPIAL and against the District 10 champion. Viola recorded two shutouts on her way to the .716 goals-against-average.
Her intensity, focus and courage in the face of potential collisions on the field are keys to her success, Ferry added.
"She plays as she trains, very hard and refuses to allow goals even in team training sessions and game-time warm-ups," the coach said. "She makes every effort to save every shot. They all count to her. In the three seasons she has been part of our program I have seen Ali mature as a player and her understanding of the game has risen significantly, as has her confidence.
"Ali was very consistent all year and had some very big saves throughout the season. She made at least one huge save in each of our playoff games. Her saves in the Upper St. Clair and Moon games were crucial, as both games were one-goal victories. In fact, she recorded six saves in shutting out Moon in the quarterfinals. Her timing in leaving the line to clear the ball from an opposing forward has been superb."
Noting that her goal is to maintain competitiveness in her sporting endeavors, which also includes playing shortstop for the Knights' softball team, Viola said she "incorporates some concepts of karate into my other sports, especially the discipline factor.
"Karate teaches self-discipline, and there is a carry-over from karate to the other sports. What I get from karate enables me to push myself harder in the other sports."
Viola's intensity continues in the classroom where she earned a 95 percent grade average the first quarter this year, with physics and math classes her favorites. She is also a member of the National Honor Society and chorus.
When it's time for college, Viola plans "to play either soccer or softball, but I probably won't have the time to play both," she said, adding that law school or sports medicine is in her future.
And, of course, she will always find time for martial arts.
"It's been such a big part of my life and I've been fortunate to have been successful," she said,
Once soccer season ended, Viola picked up the pace of her martial arts training in preparation for her trip to Sacramento.
"I've been able to devote more time to my martial arts training now that soccer season is over," she said. "By the time I get to Sacramento, I'll be ready to go. I'm looking forward to the competition and the challenge of competing against the best martial arts individuals in the world."