First time head coach set to revamp volleyball program

South Dakota State has a new volleyball coach and her name is Nicole Cirillo. It will be Cirillo’s first head coaching job, and she is looking to turn around the Jackrabbit program.

Cirillo grew up in Edwardsville, Illinois where she found out that she happened to be good at volleyball and had a strong passion for it.

“I started playing in seventh grade so I actually started later than when most kids do nowadays, but it was my freshman year in high school that I found out that it was the sport that I wanted to pursue more than others. After my freshman year in high school, I actually quit all other sports just so I could focus on volleyball.”

She did that and more. She took Edwardsville High School to regional and sectional titles and was first team all-metro, first team all-conference and won player of the year honors on the all-area team. She then went on to play two seasons at Southwestern Illinois College where she was an All-American honorable mention and was named first team All-Region. She then transferred to the University of Central Arkansas, where for the first time since 1998 she helped them get to the Gulf South Tournament in 2003. She went on to graduate with a management information systems degree and then got her Master of Science Degree in Administrative Studies from Missouri State University.

Cirillo was the coach on the floor when she was playing as she was team captain at both of the schools she played at in college. She got her start as a real coach because she didn’t know what to do after college.

“When I found out that I was going to graduate from college I looked at my coach and said ‘Oh, my gosh, what am I going to do with my life’ and he said ‘You should coach, you’d be great at it.’ I was on an interview two weeks later and I took the job,” Cirillo said.

She didn’t have many challenges in her playing career, but she said, “Being able to cater to all the different athletes we have, where some can be on the softer side and some want you to be harder on them. I fall somewhere between those two naturally, but being able to play both sides to get the best out of each and every athlete has been definitely an interesting role that I’ve had to grow and get better at in my coaching career.”

It’s clear Cirillo knows where this program is at and her goals make it even more clear, as she doesn’t want to set the bar too high right away. “Obviously the goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament, with the players we have and then the things I have set in my vision, I believe we’re going to be there sooner than later. Once we get there that goal can be pushed up into making it into the higher rounds.”

Cirillo is taking over a team that last season went 6-27 and in the last four seasons has gone 40-82. The Jacks went to the NCAA tournament in 2007. Cirillo certainly seems to have the confidence and the winning background to turn it around and get them back to that level.