Nov. 13, 2009
By Larry Watts
It hasn't taken Cathy Quilico long to figure out the primary advantage to being the shortest player in the Big Ten volleyball ranks.
"I get to be in the front row for all the team pictures," the 5-foot-1 junior defensive specialist says. "I'm usually the one holding the volleyball or the trophy."
In the case of Penn State, it's usually a trophy. Since Quilico's arrival as a transfer from Boston College last fall, the Nittany Lions have won their second straight NCAA and Big Ten championships along with seven invitationals.
"I didn't know I was the shortest player in the Big Ten until someone told me a couple of weeks ago," Quilico says. "I think it's pretty funny and people like to talk about it, but it's not that big of a deal. I know I like to joke about it."
Every now and then, Quilico, who is half-Italian and half-Chinese, will slip on her five-inch heels to try and measure up to her teammates.
"I don't like to wear them, but I need to when I go out with my friends on the team," she says. "We have some tall girls on our team, so this isn't about comfort. But it sucks when they wear heels! If I try to wear flats and they're in their heels, I only come up to their waists.
"There are many times when people don't believe I'm on the volleyball team. When we run camps and I have to give a speech at the end, a lot of people are wondering why this camper or team manager is up there talking to them. If anything, they think I'm a member of the gymnastics team."
It's not that Quilico is not familiar with gymnastics. She participated in gymnastics for 11 years while growing up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where she was also the lone female in a roller hockey league.
"The boys were all my size when I was younger, but once they kept getting bigger, I got out," she says.
After a four-year varsity career as a libero at Westlake High School and four years of club play, Quilico found herself accepting an offer to play at Boston College. "I originally wanted to play at Penn State, but they weren't offering me four years," she says.
Although she started all but one of 115 games at libero and defensive specialist and led the Eagles with 479 digs, her stay at Boston College only lasted one year.
"It just wasn't what I expected," she says of her Boston College experience. "I was there with my best friend (Audrey Eichler) and she ended up transferring to USC after one semester. I tried to stay without her, but it was really hard and I wasn't happy."
Instead of taking a cue from Eichler and taking her came closer to home, where her parents could see her play more often, Quilico was determined to stay east.
"I just wanted to try something new for four years," she says. "I feel bad because my parents love to watch me play, but I wanted to see new places.
"Another friend of mine, Ann Naylor, was a senior on Penn State's team at the time and I knew coach (Russ) Rose from my recruiting process," she added. "I gave her a call and asked her to put in a good word for me. "Although she was done with volleyball, she still had another semester of school when I arrived, which made things a lot easier."
The only drawback to her switch in schools has been travel. Instead of flying into Boston, she now usually flies into Philadelphia and then has to take another flight to State College.
"My traveling days are awful," she says. "Since I can't get a direct flight into State College, I often run into problems with delays or cancelled flights."
Since Penn State already had a libero in veteran Roberta Holehouse, Quilico saw action in 28 matches as a defensive specialist, usually subbing in for Blair Brown. She finished the year with 29 digs and six service aces.
Aside from the national championship, the highlight of her first year at Penn State was the team's summer trip to Brazil.
"The food!" Quilico quickly responded about the best part of the trip to Brazil. "I'm not a vegetarian at all and I really enjoyed the meat on those buffets. I didn't feel bad at all about eating so much because it wasn't greasy.
"It was all a once in a lifetime experience. We saw the men's national team play and got to meet their coaches, and we played their youth national team. After all the matches we got a chance to meet the girls."
Her prize souvenir from the trip is a Ronaldo soccer jersey.
"Got his name on the back and he's Brazil's most favorite athlete," Quilico says proudly.
Heading into this fall, Quilico was hoping to land the libero job for the Nittany Lions, but she lost out to fellow junior Alyssa D'Errico, who had filled in for Holehouse the previous season.
"I'm not going to lie, I was upset at first," says Quilico, who is serving as the defensive specialist when freshman outside hitter Darcy Dorton rotates to the back row. "All I kept thinking about was what I did wrong. But I'm determined to keep working hard and hope to be in the running for the (libero) job net year. And, if needed, I have to be ready this year."
Quilico went from a 14-18 rookie campaign at Boston College to a school enjoying the most successful run in NCAA history. The Nittany Lions are 58-0 since she arrived in State College and have an 84-match winning streak dating back to Sept. 15, 2007.
"We don't talk much about our success," she says. "The only reason we talk about it is because members of the media keep bringing it up. We work very hard and when we do have bad games, we get upset with ourselves and work even harder in practice.
"This has all been one enjoyable experience. We have so many great players and such great team chemistry. The team is one big family and we have had tremendous support from our boosters. I couldn't ask for a better situation after coming from so far away."