Silverio Feels Irish Family Embrace

By Joanne Norell

Editor’s Note: In 2018, five University of Notre Dame head coaches began preparations for their first seasons leading their respective programs: Chad Riley (men’s soccer), Nate Norman (women’s soccer), Alison Silverio (women’s tennis), Mike Johnson (volleyball) and Matt Sparks (cross country/track and field). This is the third of a five-part series examining the last year in the life of those coaches and their outlook now that they’ve navigated a year of competition in the shadow of the Golden Dome.

One might forgive Alison Silverio for feeling some intimidation as she embarked on her first season as the head coach of the Notre Dame women’s tennis team.

After all, she not only would be following in the footsteps of incumbent Jay Louderback, who had led the Irish to 544 victories and 24 NCAA Championship appearances in 29 season, but she would do so with no prior connection to the University. Of the five head coaches who would begin their first seasons with the Irish in 2018-19, Silverio — a national-championship winning player at Georgia Tech and head coach at Oregon before taking the Notre Dame job — was the lone newcomer to come completely from the outside.

Yes, that fact might have been some cause for nerves as Silverio stepped into her office at the Eck Tennis Pavilion for the first time. Instead, she felt nothing but energetic. 

“It was exciting at first,” Silverio said. “I knew coming in, ‘OK, I don’t have the same connection as a lot of other coaches or maybe some of the other staff has, whether they were a student-athlete or coach here before.’ But it was exciting, it was a clean slate. I was kind of just this blank canvas and taking in all the information. And I think with that, I was able to bring a new perspective and new ideas.”

Of course, Silverio was familiar with Notre Dame from her days as a student-athlete and assistant coach. She was an assistant at her alma mater when the Irish joined the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2013-14 season, and one doesn’t run in college tennis circles without knowing of Louderback. 

Indeed, Louderback’s accessibility during the transition eased any lingering trepidation Silverio had about filling such big shoes.

“Jay had a phenomenal career and I was fortunate to get to know him as a student-athlete, but also as a coach during my career before Notre Dame,” Silverio said. “And he was also he was always just so respectful, so gracious. He always had teams that (exemplified) sportsmanship and (he) always led with character and they were very successful. So I knew, of course, there were big shoes to fill, but he was so gracious through the process. And he still comes in and visits and we always have great conversations and he’s been such a big support this year, with the team, with players and for myself, so please helped to make the transition very, very smooth for me.”

Zoe Spence (left) and head coach Alison Silverio during the ACC match between University of Notre Dame vs. University of Louisville at Eck Center on March 8, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana.

Silverio quickly found herself at home, feeling the embrace of not only her team but the Notre Dame community at large. The investment of everyone involved in the program wasn’t just a rumor. It was obvious, even from the still-removed perspective of the interview process.

It hasn’t worn off, either, even one year in.

“The one thing that I learned about Notre Dame was how invested that every everyone is, in not only your personal well-being, but the well-being of your program and well-being of your student-athletes,” she says. “And after the first year, it’s just amazing the support that we have had, and that that I certainly have been shown being a first-year coach. … To actually experience it, everyone really cares about what’s happening, not only from the athletic department but from the academic side, former players, former students that just love Notre Dame. There’s so much pride at Notre Dame.”

That went a long way in not only helping her understand the culture around the University but also in building a team culture informed by her own approach to coaching.

"To actually experience it, everyone really cares about what's happening, not only from the athletic department but from the academic side, former players, former students that just love Notre Dame. There's so much pride at Notre Dame.”

Her first order of business was installing a value system fittingly called “IRISH.” The acronym stands for integrity, resiliency/relentlessness, intelligence, service and hard work.

“I was very grateful with how all of our student-athletes embraced myself and embraced the new vision and new culture and really bought into the system and foundation that we’re going to keep working on and building on,” Silverio said. “The vision is we’re going to come in and and leave a legacy here, everyone that comes through our program, they’re going to leave Notre Dame women’s tennis better than they found it. As long as they are attacking each and every day with our values, that’s going to happen.”

On the court, Silverio’s Irish finished the season 13-12 with a second-round appearance in the ACC Championship. Sophomore Cameron Corse and junior Zoe Spence each earned All-ACC honors and combined as the nation’s 44th-ranked doubles team at season’s end. Spence went 17-13 in singles on the year, with four ranked victories and two over top-10 opponents. Corse was 23-6 in singles, playing throughout the lineup and going undefeated in the No. 2, No. 4 and No. 5 spots.

With seven of the nine members of last year’s squad set to return for Silverio’s second season — including Corse and Spence — the Irish manager is pleased with the foundation set in 2018-19 and bullish about the trajectory of the program.

“I feel like we’ve built a very solid foundation this first year,” Silverio said. “Our nine student-athletes really embraced the new culture and philosophy and vision and that allowed us to foster great championship foundation. And I only continue to see our program going in an upward trajectory. Of course, we’re going to have our challenges and have adverse moments, but how we respond to those and how we keep pressing on, through those tough times is going to show through as we continue to lead with character.”

With so much positivity surrounding the program, Silverio’s sights are fixed firmly on the future. 

When she does look back on the past year, though, it will be one she remembers as when she became part of the family.

—ND—

Related:

Sparks’ Squad’s Success Starts With Culture
Johnson Committed to Constant Improvement
Culture of Service Resonated For Norman’s Squad
Riley’s Adventure Has Only Just Begun