It’s likely that Julie Torbett would have made it to 400 wins faster if she had remained at Winthrop University, but the journey to the milestone wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying.
Between Winthrop and her first head coaching post at UNC-Asheville, Torbett collected three Big South titles and two conference coach-of-the-year honors. Her previous stops had established winning traditions, and she had the opportunity to build those towers even higher.
But the landscape looked quite different when she arrived in Greenville in 2013. Torbett inherited a program that had only won six matches in its previous three seasons combined, and in her first four seasons her squads have won 12 or more times each year. The most satisfying aspect of Torbett’s 400th victory, which was celebrated Tuesday with a tribute after a victory over N.C. Central, was the recovery that it represents.
“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to build something, because the volleyball program here was really not in great shape when I got here,” she said. “When you take over something successful like I did at Winthrop, it’s a lot easier than coming into a program that has only had seven winning seasons. There are lots of challenges when you bring change. But if you want a different result, you’ve got to do things differently. So we’re trying to change the culture and to have a very competitive, successful volleyball program at East Carolina.”
Torbett’s 2017 squad will kick off its American Athletic Conference season this weekend with a road trip to Florida to face UCF and USF. The American’s perennial strength in volleyball will give the 8-4 Pirates plenty of opportunities to elevate their play. Because her players often perform to the level of their competition, Torbett is looking forward to the challenge ahead.
Lael Ceriani, a senior outside hitter who is leading the team with 156 kills, agrees that conference competition will bring out the best in her team, especially as the Pirates address the early mistakes that came out during the non-conference slate. Ceriani has plenty of confidence in her teammates, she said, because of their uncommonly good chemistry on the court.
“I love this team because it’s so positive and a really fun environment to play in,” she said. “We’re really competitive in practice, and we have a bunch of young energy. All of the freshmen who have come in are super talented and just bring this youthful energy. We work well together, we just need to work on fine tuning some things.”
As Ceriani has paced the Pirate offense, Brandee Markwith has been the backbone of the defense with 225 digs through the first 12 matches. Both landed in the East from the other coast — Ceriani is a junior transfer from University of Tennessee-Martin who originally hails from California and Markwith is from Honolulu. But both have made themselves at home in Pirate Country.
Markwith, a sophomore who made the long journey from Hawaii to North Carolina after meeting Torbett at a tournament in Florida, said that she is considerably more comfortable with Division I competition — and more connected with her teammates — in her second season.
“I think we’re peaking, which is really good, because we’re about to start conference,” she said.
Tuesday night, as her team paused to celebrate her career between her 400th and 401st career victories after the front of a doubleheader, Torbett watched a video tribute featuring former players from some of her previous 23 seasons as a head coach. As she heard messages from players who are further down the road than Ceriani and Markwith, she understood the true legacy of a long and fruitful coaching career.
“You think back on all the players that have played for you, and I got to see some of them in the video talking about success in their life after volleyball,” she said. “Getting 400 wins means I had a lot of players who played and earned those wins. And they were successes I got to share with them, now that they’re out in life and being successful.”
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