What’s Left Behind: Maria Coniglio and Her Volleyball Hardware

Maria Coniglio has a loaded trophy case.

The outside hitter’s favorite piece of hardware is her NCAA Regional Tournament trophy that she earned in her sophomore year at Johnson & Wales.

The 34-0 Wildcats came in and faced off against MIT in a five-set slug fest.

When the Engineers held a 13-12 advantage in the fifth set, Coniglio recorded a kill to tie the game, before MIT gave up a point on a bad set.

Then, MIT had a chance to tie the game at 14 as one of their hitters rose to the net. Coniglio met her at the top and sent the ball back to the other side to win the match.

“During the last point, I honestly blacked out from the excitement and the last thing I remember is being at the bottom of a huge dog pile,” Coniglio said. “That is one of the best memories of my life.”

But before hugging the Regional Champion trophy, Coniglio first got into volleyball 14 years ago when she was in the second grade. 

She has two older brothers that play as well, so she was around the sport her whole life. 

“I would travel around the country with them to every tournament and I just knew I would play as soon as I was old enough,” Coniglio said. “They would help me practice, and when I was nine, I played on my first club team which was a U12 team. From then on, I just fell in love with it and it became my life.”

Before eventually making her way to JWU, she and her Sportime Club volleyball team competed at Nationals three times, and she competed in the county finals for her high school, Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK, which was a huge leap for their program.

She also earned all-county honors three times and was a three-year Junior Olympic participant. She finished her high school career by earning Second-Team All-Long Island honors.

She was recruited to JWU her senior year of high school after Head Coach Nancy Somera saw her play at club tournaments and they emailed back and forth. 

“I had shown interest to the school and it just worked out,” Coniglio said. “It was the best decision I ever made, and I have loved every second of being a wildcat.”

Coniglio became the outside hitter for the Providence, Rhode Island team in her freshman year, but she didn’t always play that position.

At one point, she was a setter for the school and church teams she played for, but she was quickly moved to the outside hitter spot due to her height as she stands at six feet tall now.

“I’ve been there ever since and I absolutely love being an outside hitter,” Coniglio said. “I love playing all around the court both in the front and back row.”

She plays a role in almost every aspect of the game, whether it’s hitting, setting, digging or serving. In the summer, she plays indoor and beach volleyball to improve her skills all-around, but her defensive skills saw the most improvement.

“Beach volleyball really helped me become better at serve receive because of having to track the ball in the wind,” Coniglio said. “I also think playing beach volleyball helped to advance my skills by making me think of the game in a different way.  When it’s 2 v 2 on the beach, it’s not just about power shots, but also placement shots.  This helped with court vision, reading and awareness.”

When she was younger, Coniglio wasn’t very good at setting, and even though she was an outside hitter, she would have her mom send her to setter camps so she could learn. She also went to other camps to cover every spot on the court.

“I never had personal lessons, but I would go to positional camps, many through Sportime, to keep skills of all aspects of the game sharp,” Coniglio said.

This reaped immediate results in her first season at JWU as she recorded 347 kills, 276 digs, 49 service aces, 37 block assists and 19 assists. She recorded seven double-doubles and ranked sixth in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) at 3.51 kills/set, and was also among the GNAC leaders for blocks, aces and points.

She was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Honorable Mention All-American, AVCA All-New England Region, First-Team All-GNAC and the New England Women’s Volleyball Association (NEWVA) Rookie of the Year.

“Winning Rookie of the Year at JWU my freshman year was amazing because only one female athlete can win it and we have so many accomplished females,” Coniglio said.

She also claimed her first GNAC championship title after her and the Wildcats went undefeated and lost only one set in the regular season.

The next season, she was named a Second Team AVCA All-American, AVCA All-New England Region and First-Team All-GNAC.

She was first on her team with 310 kills, 3.07 kills per set, and 3.6 points per set, and finished second on the team with 303 digs and 3.00 digs per set. She recorded 10 or more kills in 14 matches and recorded nine double-doubles on the season.

She also took her second tour as a member of the USA D-3 Volleyball Tour that traveled to Brazil the year before and went this time to Costa Rica.

“Playing there, I had an increased sense of pride because I felt proud to be representing the USA. It was so cool to be playing with athletes from DIII schools all over the US,” Coniglio said. “Perhaps the most rewarding part of both trips was how we volunteered at local schools and taught the children how to play volleyball.  You could see in their faces how excited they were to see us and how they looked up to us like celebrities. In Brazil, the kids were even running around with pens and paper asking for our autographs.”

At the end of her second year, she and the Wildcats claimed their second-straight GNAC title in another undefeated season, before taking the NCAA Regional trophy in their win against MIT. They went on to fall in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

“Winning the Regional Championship was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever experienced,” Coniglio said. “You feel so proud of yourself and your team and it feels like everything you have been working towards the whole season was worth it.”

In her third year at JWU, Coniglio was named a College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Second-Team Academic All-American, CoSIDA Academic All-District Honoree, AVCA First-Team All-American, AVCA First-Team All-Region and First-Team All-GNAC.

She finished top five in the GNAC in kills (302), digs (269), and assists (26).

After claiming a third-straight GNAC title, Coniglio was named to the GNAC All-Tournament Team and was named MVP.

They had only lost one game that season and it came opening night. Afterwards, they notched a come from behind victory against No. 1 ranked Claremont, who won the National Championship the year before.

“Feeling defeated after that tough loss, we were able to rally and beat last year’s winners. What a feeling!” Coniglio said. “It helped set the pace for the rest of the season.”

Then in her final year with the Wildcats, Coniglio ranked third in the nation in kills per set (3.40), registered 12 double-doubles, and became the fifth member of the Wildcats’ 1,000 kill club in the opening weekend of the season.

She was named to the All-GNAC First-Team, AVCA All-Region Team, was named a Third-Team All-America honoree, CoSIDA Academic All-District and a CoSIDA Academic All-American.

She also proved her all-around skills by joining Annemarie Proto and Ashley Constantino as the only JWU players with 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in their career, as she finishes with 1,319 kills and 1,166 digs.

She also earned her fourth-straight GNAC championship title and was named to the All-Tournament team. So, Coniglio walks away with a championship title in every year she played the game she loves for JWU.

“Honestly the feeling of being on the court in competition is my favorite. The best feeling is when you and your teammates are just vibing and working together and you feel almost unstoppable,” Coniglio said. “The feeling of stepping on the court and being able to leave whatever issues you are dealing with at the door is so freeing. It’s the best part of my day hands down.”

Coniglio has an overflowing trophy case that features, four All-New England Region nods, four First-Team All-GNAC selections, four All-American awards, four GNAC championship titles, one NCAA Regional title and a Rookie of the Year award.

She also hit the books off the court and earned two CoSIDA Academic All-District awards and two CoSIDA Academic All-American awards, as she currently holds a 3.99 GPA.

“By far my greatest accomplishment is being a two-time Academic All-American and a four-time All-American. Athletes hope to win one of those awards at least once in their career, and I am truly honored to have received it all four years,” Coniglio said. “When you receive any awards like these, you feel proud of yourself because I worked so hard 24/7 to even be able to be considered for such an achievement. I couldn’t have done any of it without the help of my team, that I am 100% certain of.”

Now that her collegiate career is finished, Coniglio will continue to play whenever and wherever she can. She plans to compete in indoor and outdoor tournaments and hopes to eventually teach the next generation of talent the game.

“I’ll never be able to stay away from volleyball, it made me who I am and is a part of me. Hopefully I’ll be able to inspire someone to love volleyball as much as I do and I can help them achieve their full potential,” Coniglio said. “I am a very accomplished volleyball player, but none of it would have happened without the care, motivation and support of my family, coaches and teammates.”

Remember the name Maria Coniglio whenever you want to discuss outside hitters who got the job done.

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