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Creating A Culture

by Tyler Roaix

Going to a volleyball match at Central Connecticut State Univeristy gives fans no shortage of excitement. Football players bring signs and root on their fellow student-athletes. Players celebrate after each point. But the most energy comes from the bench, specifically head coach Linda Sagnelli.

Sagnelli grew up in Mount Vernon, New York as an active kid who was always playing in the neighborhood. She played many sports, but ultimately, volleyball won out because of the style of play.

“I just really like the dynamic, the property, of volleyball. The explosive jumping, spiking, hitting the ball hard at the top of your jump. The defense, hitting the floor. Pursuing the ball. I like fast action. It was just the sport that rose to the top out of everything.”

Before coming to Central in 2000, Sagnelli coached at Iona. Her job there, however, was much more than that. She coached volleyball and softball, and was also the Director of Intramurals. Later on, she added Senior Women’s Administrator and Assistant Athletics Director to her lengthy list of titles. She also shared that she had to do all of these jobs without a full-time assistant.

“Having all of those responsibilities at a really young age made me more well-rounded and prepared me. I did my own budget. I did my own equipment ordering. I had done all of this stuff. So that helped prepare me for this job.”

Despite her success at Iona, deciding to come to CCSU was not that difficult. Sagneli shared that Central is much closer to her home town and there were a lot of things she liked about the campus, specifically the various services Central offers its students.

Sagnelli is wrapping up her 18th season with CCSU. In her time, she has led the Blue Devils to success. Her 293 wins are the most in school history. The fact that the team has won at least 10 wins in every year with Sagnelli at the helm, has created an attitude of constant success.

This year’s team may be one of the best in the Sagnelli era. They finished the regular season at 18-7, including an 11-3 NEC record to give them a share of the regular season conference title. Their .720 winning percentage in 2017 is second only to the .767 mark the 2007 team posted.

But while a program always strives to win, Sagnelli admitted that her goal, above all else, was to create a culture of integrity and pride.

“That, to me, is more important than the day-to-day stuff. We are at a spot right now where the culture of our team is right where I wanted to be,” Sagnelli said.

Part of that mentality is off the court as well. What may be Sagnelli’s biggest highlight is her team’s constant success in the classroom. Over the summer, the American Volleyball Coaches Association recognized the Blue Devils for the 11th consecutive year for academic success.

“It is something they take a great deal of pride in because it is the number one reason they are here,” Sagnelli said of the academic achievements. “We make sure they understand that when they get out of here, they are set up for success in their future. It is something we talk about as soon as they come in. If you do well academically, it opens a lot of doors for you. That’s my philosophy and the team takes it, embraces it and just exceeds all of our expectations.”

After more than 30 years in coaching, Sagnelli shared how her passion for the sport is as strong as it was in her early years at Central. She gives to her players above all else.

“It’s my players that keep that fire going. You’d think you get burnt out, but it’s the student-athletes that keep me going,” Sagnelli said. “I honestly think I have the best job ever. Every day I walk in and it could bring something different. This job has become an identity. I don’t even see it as a job anymore, it is a part of who I am.”

Sagnelli’s achievements make her the most successful volleyball coach in Central’s history in the sports. Ultimately, she will be remembered as one of the best coaches the school has ever had, across all sports. But for Sagnelli, all that matters is her players and what their time is like at CCSU.

“For me, I just want to be remembered as a coach that was very passionate about volleyball and worked hard to make sure the student-athletes had a great playing and a great overall experience with a high integrity. It really is about them. What they give me far outweighs what I could ever give them,” Sagnelli said.