When Coach Dani Aquino took over as the head women’s volleyball coach at USC Salkehatchie, she brought a fresh perspective to the campus and student-athletes. After a record-breaking fall season, Aquino began making changes to improve the program. Her first order of business: securing her team for an extended spring season – the first in Salkehatchie history.
“Having a spring season was a no-brainer,” Aquino said. “I wanted people to see how serious we take volleyball here at Salk. We’re here to work hard, train better and be better.”
It was no surprise to Coach Aquino that her full squad would be returning for the spring.
“I expected nothing less from them,” she said. “They love this sport as much as I do and were ready to get back on the court after the holidays!”
Spring volleyball looks a little different than the fall. According to Coach Aquino, the focus is on positional training with a heavy concentration on filming her players. Her goal is to market her athletes and ready them for transfer.
“I want all my girls to want to continue to play. It’s my job to showcase their talents to the four-year schools and show everyone what they’re made of,” she said.
Captain and sophomore Tamyra Hunt said her first spring season as a collegiate athlete has been beneficial.
“So far, this spring season has given me and the team time to work on ourselves individually and still play together as a team,” she said. “I feel like our bond on and off the court has significantly increased and will continue to improve. Though the season is short, practices and upcoming games will help us maintain and improve our team dynamic. I can’t wait to see the positive outcomes.”
Aquino said she leads first with positivity and self-confidence while challenging her team physically and encouraging them to find their spark. Her priority as a coach is creating and providing a supportive environment for her players.
“I’ve been where they are. I’ve felt the pressures of school, my sport, family, finances, and relationships. Somehow, I managed to allow my passion for sports to thrive and that’s what I want to gift my student-athletes: understanding of what they’re bringing with them and giving them the mental space to be themselves and fall back in love with volleyball,” she said.
Captain and sophomore Zelia “JoJo” Ibarra said that certain aspects of the short spring season can make it difficult. “We have fewer competition days but are still challenged to keep our discipline present and consistent,” she said. “What I’ve most enjoyed this spring season is witnessing my team’s chemistry grow even more than I thought it could.”
It’s been that very same team chemistry that has drawn the attention of the future Salkehatchie players. “Having a spring season has been amazing for my incoming recruits” Aquino said. “Being able to tour the prospective athletes and their families and end it with a Q & A session with the team gives them a glimpse into what their future would look like. It’s important for them to hear it from my athletes’ mouths and not just take my word for it.”
Athletic Director Jeremy Joye is pleased with the growth of the volleyball program.
“I am thrilled to see the strides that Coach Aquino and her team are making in the volleyball program. Over the past two semesters, I’ve seen an increase in academic focus and community involvement. Now, we are experiencing the first spring season in program history. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for these ambitious young ladies,” he said.
Aquino emphasizes that the future of USC Salkehatchie volleyball is exciting. “I love what I do and who I do it for. And I want every player, family member, visitor, and fan to feel it, too.”
The spring season opens Tuesday, March 14 at home against USC Sumter at 6 p.m.