Former Titan Vendituoli all set to be a Panther in the fall
Normally when a new high school coach takes over a program, it’s been struggling, needed a change, and all of those ingredients sports fans know all too well.
Well, how would you like to be new Nashua High School South girls volleyball coach Erica Vendituoli.
All she’s doing is inheriting a program that went 21-0 and won Division I state championship this past fall.
Talk about setting the bar high.
“I know it’s going to be an exciting challenge,” Vendituoli said. “I know there are some good players coming back and I’m looking forward to another good season.”
Vendituoli is a familiar name for local volleyball fans as she was the Division I Player of the Year with Nashua North back in 2013. Yes, a Titan is now becoming a Panther.
But what exactly happened to bring about the coaching change? South was superbly mentored by Wayne Siejkowski since the 2014 season, but he was privately making it known he likely woud be going out on top. According to Nashua athletic director Lisa Gingras, he and his family had moved to Plaistow and the daily coaching commute had become more difficult. In fact, Siejkowski was an assistant coach last spring for Timberlane boys volleyball. He started making his feelings known to Gingras a couple of years ago.
“Two years ago I knew Wayne was leaving at the end of this season,” Gingras said. “It’s a big loss. In fact, I wasn’t sure he’d come back for this past season.”
Siejkowski, Gingras said, wanted to see his kids play their sports as they were getting over, so family was tugging at him. Few may remember that when he first arrived at South, he was the JV coach until a sudden coaching change occurred in September of 2014 and he was elevated. Not only wwas Siejkowski new to the program, he was knew to the region as his IT government contract work saw him be transferred from Wisconsin to New England.
He gradually built the Panthers program up, eventually making the semis in 2017 before back to back unbeaten regular seasons in 2018 and 2019. In 2018 he and his Panthers desperately wanted a shot at the dynasty of Hollis Brookline, but were upset in the semis by Bedford. They rallied from being points away from elimination in this past season’s quarterfinals vs. Bedford to advance to the final four and then win the title unscathed.
“He did an unbelievable job,” Gingras said. “He hit the ground running, and got involved at the club level and did a lot of work in the volleyball community.”
But fortunately for Gingras, she found a replacement quickly before the pandemic hit. Gingras is a former volleyball coach herself (Alvirne) and saw a familiar face in Vendituoli.
“It’s funny in a way,” Gingras said. “I coached against her for four years. But we’re really excited to have her back.”
Vendituoli went on to play three years at Bryant University in Rhode Island after graduating from North. She graduated from Bryant in December of 2017 so played volleyball only three years. She got the coaching bug working at the club and youth level.
“It’s a great way to stay in the game,” Vendituoli said. “It’s a way to help kids bccome better volleyball players.
“Coach Wayne did a fantasitc job coaching and creating a great culture for volleyball at South. So my approach is going to be it’s not broke, so don’t try to fix it.”
Of course, is it tough for a Titan to become a Panther? South girls soccer coach Lauren Keating made the same transition when the former North soccer player took the Panthers job last fall.
“I’m excited to be a Panther now,” Vendituoli said with a chuckle. “I know where my allegiance will be at.”
If there by some chance there is some semblance of a spring season, Gingras has an opening she still needs to fill – South boys tennis. Last year she recruited Jothan Massey, who is also the North boys swim coach, to take the position close to the start of the season. She was stuck the year before, in 2018, and at the last minute coaxed former Panthers coach Dave Santerre out of retirement for one season.
And now? “We’re working on it,” Gingras said, noting she’s reached out to the tennis community, including those at Longfellow New Hampshire Tennis and Swim Club in Nashua.
Massey and Santerre both guided the Panthers to tourney berths. Massey, she said, couldn’t return for family reasons.
Gingras did fill the North girls lacrosse vacancy she had to re-open during the school year after Heather McKillop and Kristen Peterson were co-coaches last year. McKillop is the North assistant principal and her administrative role would have made it too difficult to coach (Administrators aren’t normally allowed to be head coaches in the district). But Peterson was willing to return in a solo role.
Even if there is no season, Gingras said whomever she hires for tennis will be able to have the job next season.
Meanwhile, Gingras said the same will apply to those who seek the current middle school and sub-varsity openings: Elm Street girls track, Fairgrounds softball, Pennichuck boys track, North JV girls lacrosse and South JV softball. Those interested can either contact Gingras directly, she said, or apply on line at the district web site.
Souhegan High School boys basketball coach Peter Pierce is looking forward to next season with current junior and team leading scorer Matt McCool as a centerpiece.
But, he wonders, how with the skill level all around the state be thanks to the pandemic?
“We should be better,” he said. “We played a lot of juniors and there’s a few sophomores we feel good about.
“We should be better, but we need to remember if they’ll able to go play between now and then. Who knows what’s going to happen with summer ball, fall ball, AAU?
“If this stretches into the fall,everybody’s going to look a lot different.”
And then he chuckled.
“It’ll be like the wild, wild West,” he said. “Then we’ll find out who can really coach.”