Hear from Alison Silverio as she came to campus for the first time as our new head coach.
Alison Silverio grew up in the Midwest – born in Canton, Ohio, and living in nearby Louisville, Ohio.
She was a product of Catholic schools in that area.
She knew the University of Notre Dame – yet she never quite formally touched the place other than playing in a junior tennis event in South Bend and then competing against the Irish as a collegian, both as a player and an assistant coach.
All that changed last summer.
Late in her fourth season as head women’s tennis coach at the University of Oregon, Silverio learned that Jay Louderback had retired after 29 years as the Irish women’s coach.
Within weeks she became a candidate for the job.
Then her cell phone rang.
She remembers exactly where she was.
“I was in the office that day at Oregon, and the call came from (Notre Dame vice president and James E. Rohr director of athletics) Jack Swarbrick and so I walked outside into some trails and parks near our offices,” she says.
“Jack said that he would love for me to be his new head coach, to lead the program.
“And that was a conversation I will never forget. It was a defining moment that I knew would be life changing.
“And I did say that I would love nothing more than to be the new head coach of the women’s program. Deep down I believed that this was the right decision for me.
“I have always revered Notre Dame. Growing up Catholic and in the Midwest, Notre Dame was always where I wanted to be.”
And so the Alison Silverio era in South Bend begins.
Sports always counted for the Silverios.
“My father (Edward) played football at West Virginia,” says Alison “My mom ran marathons. My brother Anthony is three and a half years older than I am and he and I were very competitive together.
“We started tennis as a family — and my brother and I took off with it and started traveling to tournaments.”
Alison played softball, competed in gymnastics and even did a little ballroom dancing. But she developed into a national-caliber tennis player.
“Once I hit high school, the decision was made to focus on my tennis and really master that craft,” she says.
When it came to selecting a collegiate option she visited Ohio State, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.
“I think at the time I wasn’t as highly ranked as I needed to be for Notre Dame,” she admits.
Ultimately she headed to Atlanta to play for Georgia Tech.
“It was the best fit from an academic and also athletic standpoint,” she says. “And it was a phenomenal experience.
“I was a part of a team and a program where we certainly did not start out at the top. We started around 45th in the nation when I came as a freshman and methodically worked our way up through the rankings with determination.”
Silverio helped lead the Yellow Jackets to the 2007 NCAA title. She clinched the national championship with a win at number-two singles, claiming NCAA Championship MVP honors. She also helped Tech to Atlantic Coast Conference championships from 2005-07, earning ACC all-tournament honors twice and ACC Tournament MVP honors in 2005. During her senior year, the Yellow Jackets captured the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Indoor title for the first time in school history. Silverio departed Georgia Tech as the program’s all-time leader in doubles wins (98), second in singles wins (107) and fourth in singles winning percentage (.711).
She was a four-time selection to both the ACC Honor Roll and ACC All-Academic Team while winning the ITA Scholar-Athlete Award in 2005 and 2007. As a senior, Silverio won the ITA Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship & Leadership Award, the Cissie Leary Award for Sportsmanship and an ACC postgraduate scholarship.
“To finish my collegiate career number one in the country, as well as clinching and winning a national championship with my teammates, it couldn’t have been written any better,” she says.
Though she had her business degree in hand, Silverio quickly decided coaching would be a strong option for her.
“I was definitely playing the best tennis in my life after my senior year, and I knew tennis was always going to be a part of me in some capacity. I was so passionate about it. I had a phenomenal college experience. I always thought I’d love an opportunity to give back and share the lessons I had learned.”
In January 2008, six months after her graduation, an assistant coach position opened at North Carolina State. Silverio pursued it and got the job.
“That started my collegiate coaching career in tennis. And each position I’ve had since then has been a great growth and learning experience,” she says.
She spent three seasons (2008-10) in Raleigh, then returned to her alma mater as an assistant for four more years (2011-14). She helped the Wolfpack to a pair of NCAA bids and helped Georgia Tech in 2012 attract the No. 1 nationally ranked recruiting class. The 2013 season also saw her help guide the nation’s top-ranked doubles team, which won the ITA National Indoor Doubles Championship, while capping back-to-back NCAA Sweet 16 appearances for the Yellow Jackets.
At that point she began looking at head coaching opportunities.
“That involved a lot of conversations with my mentors, whom I trusted,” she says. “I have been extremely blessed to be surrounded by the best in business.
“I had many conversations with my parents, too — navigating through the pros and cons, whether it was the correct role for me to take. It is natural to have doubts with the unknown, but I was confident in trusting the process. So I decided to be fearless with my next step in my coaching career.”
In the summer of 2014 Silverio became the Oregon women’s head coach.
“It was in the Pac-12 Conference, it had a wonderful athletic and academic reputation — and it was an opportunity to take over a program that needed rebuilding,” she says. “Those reasons made the position attractive and I am grateful for the experiences I had at Oregon.”
The Ducks’16 wins in 2017-18 under Silverio’s guidance marked the most for the program since 2005-06. Six Pac-12 wins by Oregon in 2016-17 were the most since 2004-05. The Ducks’ first-round 2018 NCAA Championship win over 38th-rated Tennessee was the first at Oregon since 2004. The Ducks’ highest national ranking (No. 17) came along the way. In addition, Alyssa Tobita qualified for the 2018 NCAA Singles Championship, the first Duck to do so since 2006. Silverio also helped bring to Eugene the 15th-ranked recruiting class by TennisRecruiting.net, the highest in Oregon history.
Silverio identifies problem-solving as what became her top priority in Eugene.
“You’re always problem-solving and figuring out solutions, especially in the game of tennis and in life,” she says. “You must always prepare to deliver your best. Plus, as a head coach, the decisions are yours, you have to believe in them and own it. When successes happen and they will, a lot of attention is going to be around you and your team. And when failures happen and they will, a lot of attention will be on you and your team, too. My responsibility is to make sure we handle both with grace and dignity.
“This is who I am. These are my standards. And I will not compromise my standards when I’m making decisions for our program.”
And now Silverio calls South Bend home.
Her first phone call after receiving the job offer was to her parents.
“They have been with me every step of the way throughout my life — I am where I am today because of their unwavering love and support,” she says. “We had a very special moment together there on the phone. I could sense their happiness and joy — they were very proud of me. I let them know that not only am I going to the greatest school in the country from an academic and an athletic standpoint, but I’m also coming closer to home, back to the Midwest.
“I love the challenge, I love the expectation of wanting to be the best at everything we do, wanting to be excellent.
“When I first came to campus, I saw the Play Like a Champion Today signs all over. I know that’s a big tradition — and it was actually one of the first things I talked about when I met with our team for the first time.
“This is a tradition here. And it’s not only playing like a champion, but it’s studying like a champion. It’s competing like a champion. It’s making choices like a champion. It’s just every day being a champion. That’s what you get here at Notre Dame.
“There are championships in our future, but the champion that we’re going to be building within the person is what’s most important.”
Since Silverio is only a decade or so from her collegiate playing days, she can still handle herself on the court. She likes the idea that practices involve both “show” and “tell.”
“I love to be out on the court with our players. It’s a great tool for me to be able to learn more about their games,” she says.
“When you’re in the mix and you’re feeling what they feel, you become more relatable. Competing against them, hitting with them, working with them, it all builds a great connection.”
In some ways the formula is simple – recruit the very best tennis players to come to Notre Dame and then teach and develop them so they can be successful on and off the court.
“I don’t have any secrets,” she says with a laugh. “If I could just bottle up the magic pill or the fairy dust . . . .
“My philosophy is very simple. We’re going to improve with hard work, discipline and commitment. We’re going to be persistent everyday with the details. And continue to go about our business with character. I truly believe that character is going to win out in the tough times, whether it’s on the court, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s in our personal day-to-day lives. For me, it’s no secret.
“It’s just the foundations my parents instilled in me and the values they instilled in me. Work ethic and perseverance are things that have always been a part of my life. It’s having the resiliency to press on, whether you’re doing great or whether you’re struggling.
“We’re going to get after it together.
“We are upping the volume with our strength training and training on the court. I’ve been very pleased with how our team has embraced the change and the transition.”
Silverio loves the fact she’s now back in the ACC. No conference venue will be foreign to her.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to be back in the ACC again,” she says. “This is the strongest conference in the country. At the NCAA Final Four last year there were two ACC teams in it — so there’s amazing depth.
“You’re going to be playing the best of the best in the country and I think that competition will breed success.”
Silverio now takes over for Louderback who led the Irish to 24 NCAA Championship appearances during his tenure, including two trips to the NCAA semifinals. She knows she inherits a program with a proud tradition and track record.
“I just feel very blessed to be here at Notre Dame,” she says. “It mirrors my beliefs, values and standards.
“I love the uniqueness of Notre Dame. We’re going to respect the legacy and create champions both on and off the court.”
Silverio is pretty certain her parents brought her to a West Virginia home football game when she was a child.
But she was so young she doesn’t remember much of anything about the pageantry, intensity and passion of college athletics that day.
She’s banking on having plenty of Notre Dame women’s tennis experiences that she won’t be inclined to forget.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.