Palo Alto High School girls’ volleyball team is preparing for its first preseason game on Sept. 9 as it adapts to a different style with a new head coach.
Last season, the team lost head coach Dave Winn and graduated seniors Keri Gee, Lauren Kerr, Sarah Limb and Becca Raffel.
After coaching eight successful seasons and clinching two state championships, Winn stepped down from his position when he was offered the varsity coach position at Mountain View High School in his hometown.
The girls’ volleyball team went 25-11 overall and 8-4 in league last year. Its season ended at the Norcal Semifinals with a loss to Granite Bay, the team that would eventually go on to win the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Championship.
“Dave did a lot for the Paly volleyball program, so I know we’re all thankful for him and we’ll miss him a lot,” junior middle blocker Claire Dennis said.
The new head coach, Daniele Desiderio, has over two decades of playing experience. He was the second youngest player in history to join the professional Italian National League at age 16. After a successful career on the team, Desiderio said he went on to play in the International League, playing for seven different countries including Japan, Spain and Iran.
With this extensive amount of experience on his résumé, Desiderio has a lot to bring to Paly’s volleyball team, according to Dennis.
“He’s a different type of coach than we’ve had before,” Dennis said. “He’s talked a lot about small details and improving those. … I think that’s a very important thing to go from a good player to a great player.”
Because Desiderio recognizes that this is a transition year, he decided to take on a relatively larger team of 18 players versus last year’s already large 16 members.
“We had so many seniors and juniors and players already on this team,” Desiderio said. “These players were part of this program, and I didn’t want to be the one putting them outside.”
However, Desiderio hopes to take younger rising varsity athletes and use the freshmen and junior varsity teams to train them to play with the medley of styles that Desiderio learned throughout his professional career.
“I would like to have more freshmen on the team in the future,” Desiderio said. “I will be responsible for all of the program and will try to fix fundamentals so [players] will arrive at the varsity level and it will be easy for them to play and be inside our system.”
In addition, Desiderio intends to have all the girls improve through the season by giving everyone the opportunity to play.
“All the players that were in the tryouts, they will play this season,” Desiderio said. “Some on varsity, some of them somewhere else. We plan to have them play more.”
After just five days of tryouts, Desiderio already sees potential in the varsity team.
“I saw a lot of them have a lot of great effort and try to apply everything I coach them,” Desiderio said. “I’m pretty sure we will have a good season overall because the players show me a great attitude and effort.”
Varsity assistant coach Jekara Wilson-Gaines also noted the team’s improvement under Desiderio’s instruction.
“I’m most looking forward to seeing how the girls thrive under his guidance,” Wilson-Gaines said. “I feel a lot of players, if not all, will improve and have fun while doing so.”
Dennis expressed similar sentiments about the upcoming season.
“[Senior] Jade [Schoenberger] is going to be a big contributor, and [senior] Anna [Dukovic] as well,” Dennis said. “[Sophomore] Jess [Lee] is really exciting because she had to step up a lot last year and I know that she’s ready for it this year.”
Senior outside hitter Anna Dukovic has an outlook of friendly competition on the situation.
“I look forward to playing Dave’s [Mountain View] team,” Dukovic said, “and hopefully beating them.”
The Vikings will play their first preseason away game at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 at Leland High School.