Barnstable coach Tom Turco only settles for the best
Tom Turco loves to quote coaches, whether the name is Red Auerbach, Bill Belichick, or . . . Pat Riley.
And in a decorated 31-year run as the varsity girls’ volleyball coach at Barnstable High, Turco has utilized their words, or messages, in conveying pertinent points to his teams.
On Wednesday afternoon, after wrapping up a lively conversation in which he talked at length, with pride, about the program, Turco took issue when he received a “good luck” in advance of the Red Raiders’ first-round game in the Division 1 South tournament.
“Luck is the residue of design,” said Turco, who has guided Barnstable, the Globe’s top-ranked team, to an 19-0 regular season.
“You know who said that? Branch Rickey.”
Luck has not been part of the equation. Turco planned it this way, meticulously crafting a program capable of continued dominance since 1988.
He had worked as an assistant the previous two seasons under Lorraine Dunnett.
“Managing people and being responsible for varsity teams, that was a growth point,” he said. “My first year we went 5-11 and we changed the culture basically after that year. It was a lot of trial by error in the coaching aspect. On a positive note, I think I learned from my first-year errors.”
The turnaround was immediate.
Barnstable went 20-2 in 1989 and won the first of its 18 Division 1 titles in 1993. There have also been 23 South crowns, all with Turco prowling the sideline in his signature khaki shorts and Barnstable polo.
His .918 winning percentage (676-61 record) is better than the dominance of Nick Saban (.782) with the Alabama football program, or Geno Auriemma (.883) with UConn women’s basketball.
Turco expects a lot from his players, putting the Red Raiders through tough training sessions and intricately planned practices.
“The consistency every day, it’s the little things that he does that have us as prepared as possible,” said senior hitter Riley James.
“That’s what I love about this program, how focused it is. And it’s all because of him. Every day, there’s a practice plan down to the minute of what we have to work on and get done and it’s never easy. It’s always hard work, but he knows that and we know that.”
His talent pool is drawn from a student body of approximately 750 girls. So the key to sustainability is development at the youth level.
Early on, Turco reached out to Dana Defilipo (currently the head coach of the Greater Lowell boys), who had directed the Chelmsford girls to back-to-back titles. She offered an invite to her summer clinic.
“It was a home run,” said Turco. “I sat there and said to myself, ‘I am doing exactly what she does’ . . . Those kids were so tuned in. They learned, they had fun, they went outside totally away from volleyball to play a phys-ed game, they came back and were focused as can be on the next skill. And we’re still doing the same model.”
Turco had 13 campers his first year, including two of his own kids, then 50, and eventually, 200. That success prompted Turco to launch the Cape Cod Juniors club teams for middle school players.
“I think since we all start at the rec camps so young, it’s kind of like a filter,” said Barnstable senior Olivia Berler.
“Once we all sign up for the rec camp and end up loving it, then we all sign up for Juniors and then we just keep going throughout that. Coach Turco is obviously the head of all the camps and all the club teams and I think through an early bond with him and volleyball, we just all end up trying out in eighth grade together.”
Physical ability is an important aspect of Barnstable’s dominance. But so, too, is what happens off the court.
Instead of naming one or two captains per season, he assigns captaincy to each of the seniors, regardless of the size of the class or their contributions statistically.
Without creating a hierarchy of command, the gesture is well received. They all understand that they will have their time in which they are thrust into a leadership role.
Freshman coach Jessie Goode , who played for Turco from 2003-06, appreciates that she can work with her players on next-level volleyball skills.
“To be able to teach kids in eighth or ninth grade different rotation styles or how to play with one setter or switching to play an actual position as opposed to just rotating around, it’s nice to start at that point as opposed to getting there at the end of the season,” said Goode. “That’s a huge advantage right there, just having the knowledge of the game.”
The seniors, said Turco, have always been the leaders.
“In my experience, they all have gifts to give. They can be the leading producers, but they don’t have to be. I’ve had some tremendous captains and they all lead in such different ways. It’s amazing how these kids can lead just by example and with subtle things. You might get a player who doesn’t get a lot of playing time and they’re a senior captain, and they’re as dedicated and committed to the team goals as anybody else on that team.”
Each season, Turco schedules six 90-minute sessions in the classroom, teaching his players from Riley’s book, “The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players.” The first chapter culminates with a players-only meeting to develop season goals.
A friend had dropped off the book at Turco’s house. “It sat on my desk for a year,” he said. “I just couldn’t bring myself to read a book by the coach of the Lakers back in the ’90s. But when I read it, it was an absolute golden fit for my high school program.”
The book has become a staple, and the concepts resonate.
“We did ‘The Winner Within’ when I was there all four years and it’s something that I still do today,” said Barnstable grad Natalie Cohen, now the head coach at Dean College.
“I literally still have my book with all my notes and scribbles in it that I got back in 2003 and it’s been able to help me tremendously with my coaching and my teams now. The way the book is set up, it’s strategic in the fact that it compliments every point of the season and for some crazy reason, it always matches up a chapter with something that the team in going through.”
On the court, the success has been astounding.
In his tenure, Turco has coached multiple All Americans, eight Massachusetts Gatorade Players of the Year, and 66 Boston Globe All-Scholastics. There were a state-record 110 consecutive wins from 2003-07.
He was elected into the State Coaches’ Hall of Fame in 2004. His teams have always maintained a 3.30 cumulative GPA or above since 2013 to earn the AVCA Team Academic Award.
These days, he has a bit more time to devote to coaching. In 2014, Turco retired after teaching phys ed to special needs students for 30 years.
He still demands excellence. At Wednesday’s practice, Turco asked James, Ingrid Murphy, and Josie Deluga to return 75 spikes with pinpoint passes right to a teammate planted inside of a hula hoop within 11 minutes. He expects excellence, and the players do, too.
Leaving practice with her fellow seniors, James was offered a “good luck” in the tourney. She paused at the door, turned, and unprompted said, “Coach Turco would be disappointed in us if we didn’t say this: But luck is the residue of design.”
New Bedford coach Neil Macedo earned his 600th career win with the Whalers’ 3-0 sweep of Taunton in the regular-season finale. “I feel old, that’s how I feel,” said Macedo, in his 35th season. “How do you get to 600 wins? You coach a long, long, time. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of real good athletes.” The Whalers (18-1) claimed the second seed in the D1 South bracket and await the winner of Brockton/North Attleboro in the quarterfinals . . . The Division 1 Central/West bracket is loaded this year. Undefeated top seeds Acton-Boxborough and Franklin won’t have it easy if they want to advance to the state semifinals. Third-seeded Hopkinton and sixth-seeded Needham will be a great matchup if both advance, while fourth-seeded Shrewsbury and fifth-seeded Lincoln-Sudbury could both make runs to a sectional final in a less competitive bracket . . . Essex Tech fell to Danvers, leaving just five undefeated teams left in EMass heading into the state tournament: No. 1 Barnstable (19-0), No. 4 Acton-Boxborough (17-0), No. 5 Franklin (17-0), No. 6 Lawrence (18-0), and Tri-County (22-0).
Players of the Week
Nicole Brown, Canton – The senior setter totaled 50 assists and 10 digs in a 2-0 week for the Bulldogs with a sweep over Westwood and 3-1 win over Quincy.
Victoria Caiano, Greater New Bedford – The senior libero surpassed 1,000 career digs for the Bears with 14 in a sweep of Greater Lawrence before pacing the defense in a sweep of Essex Tech to win the State Vocational Large title.
Kiara Dempsey, Tri-County – The North Attleborough resident logged 24 service points, seven aces, and four kills to propel the Cougars (22-0) to the State Vocational Small title with a sweep of South Shore Voc Tech.
Riley James Barnstable – James was named to the Under Armour All-America first team on Wednesday, the only Massachusetts player named to any of the three teams or honorable mentions. Her 20 kills in a sweep of Duxbury leave her 30 away from breaking the career state record.
Jerielis Torres, Boston English – The senior hitter collected 54 of her team’s 55 total kills in the Boston City League tournament, adding 33 digs and five aces as the Eagles captured the crown with a 3-0 win over Latin Academy. She was the tourney MVP.