Coach DeRossi, Corsairs Moving Forward
“Winning and losing can ultimately come down to a player’s passion. Their passion for the game… Their passion for the team… Their passion for the competition.”
The quote above, by Penn State Women’s Volleyball head coach Russ Rose, looms on the wall in the office of Steven DeRossi, the head coach of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth volleyball team.
It is clear that Coach DeRossi has had the passion for volleyball early on in his life, even if that passion for the game may have emerged through pure circumstance.
In the fall of 1987 his son was interested in joining the startup of the volleyball program in his senior year at New Bedford High School. The only problem was that the team had no coach.
Back in his office, Coach DeRossi adjusts his round glasses and jolts up in his chair as he recalls the moment he devoted himself to the game of volleyball, “It was a Friday afternoon and there was a two p.m. deadline… By the time it was four I was the only applicant! So I got the job and I spent all summer long learning about the game.”
Good thing no one else applied, because he would go on to coach the New Bedford High School team for 24 years.
If you really think about it, volleyball chose Coach DeRossi. It is only natural that DeRossi says he fell in love while teaching the game instead of playing it, as he was also a principal at a middle school in New Bedford for 14 years, where he mentored students who didn’t know a thing about the game, and wound up winning eight state championships.
When asked what makes the game so great to him, Coach DeRossi lights up, “Volleyball is all about timing; people don’t appreciate how much it takes from a mental and physical standpoint. It’s probably the most ‘team’ game; the area of play is the most congested of any sport in the world, and everything depends on the rickashays of other players. As far as I’m concerned it’s the most exciting sport.”
And because of Coach DeRossi and the women’s volleyball team, UMass Dartmouth has a lot to be excited about.
At the time of the interview the team was undefeated. However on September 22nd the Corsairs suffered their first lost at the hands of Plymouth State. That day they played twice, rebounding from the earlier defeat to beat Maine-Framingham.
Still, at 17-4 now, they have already surpassed their total amount of victories from last year’s disappointing 14-17 record. Due to this early success there’s a lot to look forward to, especially for the lone senior on the team, Sociology major Jessica Goncalves.
Goncalves has been on the team all four years of her undergraduate career, while simultaneously becoming a certified coach herself, teaching high school players. She is an extension of Coach DeRossi on the court, as each play literally starts with her set.
Naturally, she welcomes the added weight of her role “I love the pressure,” she replies with a laid back smile “ It drives me.” Full of personality she practically hugs herself when she confesses that leaving UMass Dartmouth with a championship to accompany her diploma would be “the greatest feeling in the world” but she knows it will take hard work, and major improvements from previous seasons.
Goncalves explains last year’s record by admitting the team became too complacent, and lost some if it’s competitive edge. But not this year, she assures, “With this young team, there’s a lot more energy and enthusiasm. Everybody here is eager to learn and get better… With my team’s mentality anything is possible.”
And with the abundance of youth on this year’s roster Goncalves drives her squad, utilizing her coaching skills to help her talented, but less experienced teammates adjust to the faster paced college game.
And it does take time to adjust. Biology major Stephanie Antoine admits, “The game is a lot faster, people [in college] have more talent then they did when I played in high school.” But just like Goncalves, Antoine boasts about the team-camaraderie and is confidant in her team’s chances, “I love the energy and the chemistry of the team, we all get along.”
Chemistry and continuity is a crucial factor in the team’s success so far, as last year was plagued with nagging injuries. Junior finance major and frontline player Tahirah Gibson can probably attest to the team’s struggles to maintain healthy in past years more than anyone else, as she was forced to sit out most of her freshman year with a dislocated knee, and much of last year do to a concussion.
Although understandably frustrated with injury-bugged seasons of years past, Gibson is approaching this season keeping the team first, “I feel like we’re more competitive… And we all feel like we have something to prove, so we want to step it up” she proclaims with clear determination in her hazel eyes.
Of course, at the time the giant elephant in the room was the undefeated record, and the talks of possibly going undefeated. Not surprisingly, Coach DeRossi tried to downplay all of this, “In this day and age everybody copies Bill Belichick’s ‘one game at a time’ approach” he acknowledged, and that’s probably the smart thing to do, given the fact that this year’s team includes nine freshmen.
Regardless of the fact that an undefeated season is now no longer a possibility, expectations have increased because of the 12-0 start, but Coach DeRossi knows his team will keep a level head if they stay focused; “The hardest [game] is the next one… We are still maturing. We don’t have to climb steeply, but we need to keep climbing in the right direction.”
Coach DeRossi and his Corsairs definitely aren’t looking down.