(Image via @umassdvolleyball / Instagram)
Staff Writer: Tom Dunford
When UMass Dartmouth hired Justin Turco in April 2022, expectations were high. Turco had spent the previous nine seasons as the head coach of Salisbury University, accumulating a record of 164-74. His success at Salisbury was historic. He led them to a 9-0 start in 2014 and nine consecutive conference tournaments during his time there.
His impact on the Corsair’s Women’s Volleyball team has been seismic.
In 2021, the Corsairs went 11-12 and struggled both offensively and defensively. When Justin Turco got to the helm, he emphasized a more defensive-minded game with a need for communication. Under this transition, the team went 19-8, with 11.7 kills per game offensively and dominant 16.6 digs and 1.4 blocks per set. The team looked promising heading into their 52nd season as a program, and it’s safe to say every expectation was shattered.
And his hard work has definitely paid off. The Little East Conference awarded Turco 2023 Coach of the Year for the second season in a row.
The Corsairs have done the impossible, thanks to Turco and the rest of the coaching staff, as they continue to make history.
Numbers Don’t Lie
The Corsairs have dominated all season, and the numbers don’t lie. When it comes to blocking, the team saw, on average, 1.4 blocks per set, proving that defense does indeed win championships. Along with their insatiable talent for blocking, the ‘Sairs also saw 18.5 digs per set, blowing their previous season average out of the water.
The team has been known for stellar communication, which is also prevalent. as the ‘Sairs averaged 10.6 assists per set, while their opponent, on average, only eclipsed. 9.1 per set. The Corsairs played a two-way structure that allowed them to take significant risks, and their season proves how effective that strategy was.
Defense is the Best Offense
In the season’s most crucial game, both teammates and fans came together as the Corsairs narrowly beat Plymouth State 3-2. Game 5 was down to the wire in an insatiable 15-12 victory for the ‘Sairs. On November 4th, the Tripp Athletic Center was packed, with 312 people in attendance to watch the performance of a lifetime.
The Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Kate Wade, had blood in her eyes and continues to be one of the best hitters in the league, as she plotted 19 kills and 16 digs. Her resilience and tenacity also helped to seal the deal for ‘Sairs, as she spiked a ball that Plymouth State could not control.
Sophomore defensive specialist Emily Pogorelec proved why she was both the 2022 Little East Defense Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, achieving two aces, six assists, and 21 digs. Given her performance, it only makes sense that she was awarded the 2023 LEC Defense Player of the Year.
The defensive phantom provided defensive reassurance, stopping any momentum from the opposition, along with keeping her head cool when a rare mistake was made.
What’s Next For The Corsairs
After an incredible regular season, the Corsairs women’s volleyball team will have the chance to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time.
The Corsairs have gotten comfortable winning any type of game as they ride a 13-match win streak. That experience and truancy will be necessary for the ‘Sairs, who will play their first-ever match against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas, who achieved their ninth conference title on November 11th in a 3-0 shutout win.
The Corsair’s have an experienced foe with talent running up and down the lineup, as the Athenas lead all Division three teams in assists and kills per set.
Turco and the Corsairs have work to do, but they have been a force to be reckoned with all season and will continue not to let pressure get the best of them.
Regionals are set to get underway at MIT on November 16th.