Oct. 14, 2013
VILLANOVA, Pa. - Allie DiBernardo is a walk-on junior that was an integral part of the Villanova volleyball team in 2011, providing a spark that helped the Wildcats to a BIG EAST Championship tournament berth. Thrown into the fire in her first collegiate year and forced to start as the team's primary setter, DiBernardo excelled, appearing in 27 matches and 94 sets, averaging 9.70 assists per set with a total of 912 assists for a team that finished 17-13.
However, DiBernardo's story does not begin with the accomplishments adored in her freshman season. Instead it originates in the spring of her senior year in high school when she was thrown a curve ball that set off an emotional rollercoaster.
Ever since the Coto de Caza, Calif. native learned how to hit a volleyball she had her mind set on one goal: follow her parents' legacy and play volleyball at the University of Notre Dame. Raised by two parents who met each other while playing college ball for the Fighting Irish, DiBernardo was instilled with Blue and Gold since she was a baby.
"Both my parents played sports at Notre Dame so it was my dream to play there ever since I was little. I was dying to go there," DiBernardo said.
When she began playing volleyball competitively, the junior setter believed she would be the next DiBernardo to play for the iconic Catholic school that enjoys the success of being one of the top athletic programs in the entire nation. Her father, Rick, laced up his cleats for the prestigious football team that holds an NCAA record 13 National Championships in its storied history. While her mother, Mollie, played four seasons for the Notre Dame Volleyball team.
In the summer before her senior year of high school, DiBernardo participated at a camp at Notre Dame and really impressed the coaches. In her discussions with the Fighting Irish, she was told the team really wanted her to be their setter but everything had to fall in place in order for her to get into the school of her dreams.
"I found out that I didn't get into Notre Dame and I was really distraught," DiBernardo added. "I was upset because I thought my volleyball career was over. I was heartbroken, depressed and didn't know what to do because I loved volleyball so much. I live to play so when I got the news it was unbearable."
Meanwhile, DiBernardo had received news that she had been accepted into another Catholic school in a different state but had not planned to really think about Villanova University since she had her heart set on Notre Dame. Not knowing she would play volleyball ever again, DiBernardo's father told her to give the Villanova coach (Josh Steinbach) a call and talk about joining the program.
"I was blindsided by the turn of events so I didn't think about playing at Villanova. My dad called Josh and told him I wanted to walk-on," DiBernardo said. "The Notre Dame coach called Josh as well and put in a good word for me, saying that I was a good player, good athlete and come from a good family."
A few weeks later, Villanova head coach Josh Steinbach called DiBernardo back with the greatest news she could ever imagine. Villanova's was recruiting a setter and she would be a perfect fit for the Wildcats team that needed someone with her skill set and the ability to bounce back and recover during times of turmoil. DiBernardo was so thrilled to be playing college volleyball; she made the decision without even visiting the campus.
"When we got to campus, Josh was like I've never had an athlete that has never seen the school, so he showed me around the campus," DiBernardo said. "All I needed to know where the gym was and where to eat and I was good to go. It all meshed together weirdly and the stars were aligned for this to happen, Villanova needed a setter and I got to play volleyball. I love it."
Steinbach had never seen DiBernardo play but took a shot on her after talking to his contacts that raved about her ability and the person she exemplifies. Not only did her skills translate on the court but she was someone with high character and would be a perfect fit in a sport that requires high camaraderie and communication amongst its teammates. Once DiBernardo set foot on campus, Steinbach knew he made an excellent choice.
"Allie is a tough kid who plays hard every day, both in practice and matches. With that I think she deals with adversity by just pushing through it," Steinbach said. "She's had a number of injuries here and she has just kept going and found ways to deal with everything on her plate. The exact type of person I look for when recruiting players for our team. "
While her dream was to play volleyball in South Bend, Ind., DiBernardo has always wanted to be a nurse. The benefit of being a Wildcat over attending Notre Dame is that Villanova offers a quality nursing program. DiBernardo was recently accepted into the nursing school and has begun clinical trials earlier this semester. She attends the hospital Monday and Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. before volleyball practice which is usually slated around 2 p.m.
DiBernardo credits her time management and organization skills to balance school and volleyball. She stays up to date with her rigorous curriculum by reading all the time, on the team bus during away trips and study hall, as well as visiting teachers and forming study groups with her peers.
"Volleyball has helped me in every way possible," DiBernardo said. "Not only has it taught me the balance of being hard on myself but allowing yourself to relax and live. When you're in stressful moments like serving on game point and doing well in school, it's like all that pressure builds up, keeping me motivated and self-determined."
As a walk-on, DiBernardo has made a name for herself among her teammates. She credits her ability to bounce back from life's many punches and always move forward by adapting to it, especially since everything did not go as planned upon high school graduation. Instead of striving for individual milestones, DiBernardo puts her team first. She doesn't want to get caught up in her own skills, but mentally be a spark for her team, pushing them to be the hardest working in the gym and always play with a chip on their shoulder with a warrior's mentality.
"She is a great energy kid, brings a big smile to the gym and to the team, and communicates well; She's a good teammate and leader," Steinbach added. "I think her teammates appreciate what she brings to the table and her willingness to contribute in any way necessary sets a great example of how a true team player competes."
Another benefit of attending Villanova was DiBernardo's chance to face Notre Dame the following year. DiBernardo was not shy to brag about the opportunity she would receive to take down the school that deemed her not worthy of her presence.
On September 25, 2011, DiBernardo would get the opportunity to showcase her skills to Notre Dame and show what they missed out on. The match was on national television (ESPNU) and DiBernardo was nursing a broken thumb that might keep her out of the lineup against the one school she desperately wanted to beat. DiBernardo did play and while setting with nine fingers and blocking with one hand tuned in one of the best performances of her life. She registered 31 assists and nine digs en route to a 3-1 victory over the team that turned her down.
"When we beat Notre Dame at their house in my freshman year, I was like finally, this all came full circle. My mom was there and she was wearing her Villanova stuff. In the pregame speech, Josh said, "there is not many times will you have a game to play for one player but this game is for Deebz." That made me so excited and the whole team supported me and wanted to beat them bad so I could prove them wrong," DiBernardo said. "It was one of the best experiences of my life and it was on TV. They didn't think I was going to play but I was like no way I have to play. After the win is where I felt that God had a plan for me to go to Villanova."