Mentorship produces perfect record

Photo courtesy of Michelle Desmond.
Sacred Heart head coach Michelle Desmond (left) and her mentor Rob Slavin (right).

You could say Sacred Heart coach Michelle Desmond has always been one to stick to her roots.

When Desmond was 12 years old, she worked at a quaint little clam shack on Cape Cod. Back then, she did not know about the life-changing mentorship that would follow with the clam shack’s owner, Rob Slavin.

To Desmond, Slavin was not only the owner of the Brewster establishment, Cobie’s, but he would someday become her English teacher, her volleyball coach, and the parent whose child she babysat before she graduated from Sacred Heart in 1994.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

While she was pursuing her education, Slavin was creating a 22-year legacy at Sacred Heart.

“He’s gone above and beyond. He’s put out a book every year that has leadership and team-building when no one else is doing that kind of thing,” said the Kingston school’s Director of Advancement, Suzanne Giovanetti.

Slavin started the girls’ volleyball program in 1989, bringing the Saints 14 Mayflower League titles and 21 consecutive playoff appearances. In 1999, Slavin was named Boston Globe Coach of the Year, and he was also the president of the Massachusetts Girls Volleyball Coaches Association.

“He really built a team and family atmosphere as the backbone of this program,” she said.

After grabbing her MBA from UMass-Boston, something brought Desmond back to the Cape, and fittingly, there was a job opening — a job as Slavin’s junior varsity volleyball coach.

For Desmond, her Saints’ squad back in high school rekindled memories of tradition and a strong bond that she, too, tried to implement in her coaching.

“I certainly enjoyed my greatest memories with my volleyball friends. There isn’t a particular game or record [I remember], but there’s the experience I remember fondly in high school,” said Desmond.

“I have a great affection for Sacred Heart and I don’t see myself coaching anywhere else,” she said.

Like Slavin, Desmond is a multi-tasker. In addition to working with her family-run drilling company, Desmond Will Drilling, Inc., the coach is also a pilot, flying in her free time.

After five years of coaching junior varsity, Desmond was bumped up to the position of head coach after Slavin retired in 2010 with more than 400 career wins.

Desmond fondly recalls the bond she had, and continues to have with Slavin.

“He continues to be a great mentor. He’s done everything — he created the program,” said Desmond.

“My first year I spoke to him daily throughout tryouts and celebrated wins and discussed losses,” she said.

“The calls are less often [now] but he comes to a lot of home games and he’s still very involved in the mentor role,” she said.

Although her coaching style may differ from Slavin’s, Desmond has produced a Globe Top 20 squad that is unbeaten at 12-0.

“I like to think my education and life experiences at Sacred Heart before and after graduation all contribute to my coaching style. I have high expectations but I say [to my girls] I can’t make this more important to me than it is to you,” she said.

Desmond is thrilled with her squad’s performance this season and with the help of Saints’ alum and junior varsity coach Shelby Nessralla, the Saints are “fluid in motion and moving how they’re supposed to be,” said Desmond.

“The kids have stepped up their game and proved to be a mentally tough and skilled team this year, there’s a switch that’s flipped,” she said.

The Saints have dropped only two sets all season and host Notre Dame Academy of Hingham Monday, their toughest matchup yet.

Games of the Week

No. 5 Newton North at No. 1 Barnstable, Thurs., 5 p.m. — The Red Raiders know how to win. The squad is unbeaten at 10-0, recently qualified for the postseason, and have home-court advantage. They’ve only dropped two sets all season to Notre Dame of Hingham so to say they have the advantage is an understatement. Newton North’s only loss this season came to Brookline.

No. 2 Notre Dame (Hingham) at No. 18 Sacred Heart, Mon., 4 p.m. — This may be the Saints’ toughest matchup all season. Notre Dame of Hingham was the dark horse this season and has emerged as one of the sport’s toughest threats after knocking down a Top 20 team twice and after having stolen two sets from Barnstable this season.

No. 16 Hopkinton at No. 10 Medfield, Wed., 6:30 p.m. — This Tri-Valley League matchup features the league’s top two contenders. Medfield couldn’t figure out Notre Dame of Hingham, accounting for two of its losses. Barnstable has taken both of these squads out of their systems. Hopkinton is on a seven-game stretch.

No. 12 North Andover at No. 13 Andover, Fri., 6 p.m. — The Golden Warriors finally get their rematch after bowing to North Andover, 3-2, in the season-opener, their only loss this season. The Golden Warriors will have to figure out Erin Cox, who has pulled up big numbers for North Andover, which is undefeated at 11-0.

No. 3 Bishop Fenwick at No. 19 Lynnfield, Fri., 5 p.m. — Aside from their season-opening loss to Medfield, 3-0, the Crusaders have cruised through their schedule on a nine-game win streak. One of these victories was a 3-0 win over Lynnfield on Sept. 25, with Kate Lipka’s 19 kills and Tess McLaughlin’s 33 assists.