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From spiking volleyballs to crocheting sweaters, Rhamat Alhassan isn’t your average college athlete

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Rhamat Alhassan

Florida volleyball player Rhamat Alhassan's off-the-court interests have caused her teammates to refer to her as the official "grandma" of the Gators. The 2017 SEC Player of the Year will look to keep UF's season alive Thursday night when it takes on Stanford in the Final Four.

Alan Alvarez / Alligator Staff

Sewing together articles of clothing. Knitting blankets and scarves with friends.

No, this isn’t a list of your grandmother’s favorite hobbies. It’s how Florida volleyball player Rhamat Alhassan spends her free time.

The senior middle blocker from Glenarden, Maryland, is known by her teammates as the official “grandma” of the Gators, garnering a reputation for her baking and crocheting skills. She’s an “old soul” according to coach Mary Wise, but when Alhassan steps onto the volleyball court, there’s nothing elderly about her.

The 2017 SEC Player of the Year has racked up four All-America selections, broken UF’s all-time career blocks record and helped the Gators win 109 matches over the past four seasons.

And when she walks onto the floor of the Sprint Center Thursday night at 9 to take on Stanford in the Final Four, Alhassan will try to lead her team to its first national championship match since 2003.

She’ll be out to remind the crowd exactly why she’s set to go down as one of the greatest middle blockers in the history of Florida volleyball.

She’ll jog onto the hardwood trying to will her program one step closer to its first NCAA title.

But Alhassan’s volleyball journey didn’t begin with much success. She couldn’t even hit the ball over the net.

* * *

When Alhassan’s sophomore year of high school rolled around, she decided to try something new.

The lanky teenager had been playing basketball at a high level since seventh grade, scoring over 1,000 career points and receiving McDonald’s All-American honors at the Academy of the Holy Cross.

But there was another sport she was interested in playing: volleyball.

Alhassan wasn’t familiar with the game, but was highly recruited by coach Silvia Johnson of the Metro Volleyball Club in Washington D.C.

“It was easy to see that the kid had a future (in volleyball),” Johnson said. “So that’s what I think got her more interested in the sport.”

Alhassan went to the volleyball club for the first time with a high school friend and varsity teammate. When she took the court, the flaws in her game were more than noticeable.

“I was horrendous,” Alhassan said.

Johnson recalls struggling to teach Alhassan how to properly approach the net and hit the ball toward the other side of the floor.

“It was pretty comical in the beginning,” Johnson said.

Thanks in part to the club, however, that all changed. Alhassan said playing for Johnson “groomed” her into the player she is today.

After spending more than a year with the club, her confidence began to show. She was enjoying the sport more and more, and schools like Florida, UCLA and Texas were starting to recruiting her.

Soon after that, the club sent Alhassan to the U.S. youth national team for a tryout. She didn’t make the cut, but the rejection didn’t stop her.

One year later, Alhassan made the team. She won a gold medal and was named MVP of the tournament.

In the three years she played for club, Alhassan said Johnson guided her through the game.

“She’s someone who values hard work and leadership,” Alhassan said. “And I feel like I built that with her and it’s great.”

* * *

Although she’s become one of the best middle blockers in all of college volleyball, Alhassan has some skills off the court as well.

She learned to knit from a friend while in high school and taught herself to crochet during college. She has even passed the knowledge on to her self-proclaimed “little sister” and teammate, Rachael Kramer.

“Last week, we went and bought yarn together” Kramer said in November. “She’s making a blanket and I’m making a blanket… I know it sounds like the most ‘grandma’ thing to do.”

Through her knitting and crocheting, Alhassan has made several articles of clothing as well as a baby blanket for former teammate Ziva Racek.

Alhassan is also well known for her ability to bake. Kramer said whenever someone receives an individual award, that player is responsible for bringing candy to practice for the rest of her teammates. Except Alhassan.

“She’ll bake stuff,” Kramer said. “That is (Wise's) one request, that if Rhamat ever gets an award, she’s not allowed to bring in candy. It has to be something homemade.”

Alhassan also began playing the violin in fourth grade. She said a friend at school knew how to play the instrument, which led her to want to start taking lessons.

“I just really thought it was so cool,” Alhassan said.

The 6-foot-4 middle blocker played the violin all the way through high school and still has the instrument with her.

“I’m going to bring it down in the spring since I’ll have nothing else to do,” she said.

Kramer said she has yet to hear Alhassan play the violin.

“That is the one hobby I am waiting for. She hasn’t brought it in yet.”

* * *

With Florida still in the thick of the national championship race, Alhassan has tried to ignore the fact her college career is coming to a close.

But with the Gators about to lose such a major component of their team, it’ll be hard not to notice her absence next fall, according to Wise.

“She’s going to be the player that, years from now, when Gators come in the gym for the first time, they’ll look up and see her picture on the wall,” Wise said. “She’ll be the standard that all (middle blockers) will compare themselves to.”

Alhassan said she hopes to pass on the knowledge she learned in her time at UF to her younger teammates like Kramer.

“I’m gonna miss her when she’s gone,” Kramer said. “I don’t want her to leave.”

When Alhassan’s time at UF finally comes to an end, her volleyball career likely isn’t over, especially with the lofty goals she has set for herself.

Alhassan said she wants to go pro and has dreams of playing in the Olympics.

“I really wanna do that,” she said. “Go big or go home.”

And according to her coaches, they wouldn’t be surprised if she met those goals.

“She’s still a very young volleyball player,” Wise said. “Her best volleyball is still ahead of her. It’ll be exciting to see what she does after she graduates.”

Contact Justin Ahlum at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @justinn_case1.