Palermo pushes the needle

Sophomore outside hitter excelling in expanded role

Arielle Palermo has had a smashing season for the playoff-bound Gaels.

The women’s volleyball team has been treading water since they won the OUA Championship in 2012.

In the elapsed time, they haven’t had a losing season, and they’ve made the playoffs every year but one. However, they’ve been bounced in the first round each time, winning a paltry three sets over six playoff games. Good, but not good enough.

Enter Arielle Palermo. She was a prized recruit, having competed at OFSAA for all four years of high school, in cross country and soccer in addition to volleyball, where she won gold in her junior year. 

She came in the door with an impressive resume: besides her OFSAA gold, she won gold at the U18 Ontario Provincials, earned medals at various US tournaments with her regional club, and played for Team Ontario, winning MVP Libero in U16 play. 

With her outstanding athleticism combined with her stellar record on big stages, Palermo was deemed a rookie to watch in her first season, with Head Coach Ryan Ratushniak calling her “a very exciting player.”  

This year, she’s made good on her promising talent and taken a big step forward to become the lynchpin of an electrifying Queen’s offence. She currently leads Canada in service aces per set (0.79), and she’s third in the OUA for kills per set (3.33).

This year’s iteration of the Gaels is young and hungry. After losing five players to graduation last year, middle blocker Danielle Corrigan is the only senior on the roster, but the young talent makes up for the lost leadership.

Among the new-look roster are several exceptional athletes, with last year’s recruiting class including multiple Junior National Team members.

With their current trajectory, Head Coach Ryan Ratushniak sees the team regularly contending for the OUA Championship over the next couple years. But if that’s going to happen, he needs the new players to step up to the challenge. Palermo has done just that and more.

Although she’s only in her second year, on such a young team Palermo is emerging as a leader, and her Gaels are a solid 10-6 on the eve of the playoffs.

The pressure is ramping up, but she’s comfortable with it. “I’m enjoying my year,” she said in an interview with The Journal. “I like the challenge.”

“First year was a big adjustment, as it is for all new freshmen. Learning to juggle the demands of the long season schedule with academics, adjusting to new teammates, […] being the youngest." 

“I learned to work hard, always put out your best, and the rest will sort itself out, as to playing time and success on the court.” 

Modest words, but Palermo makes it clear that the attention hasn’t gone to her head. 

When asked about being singled out as a star player, she deflected the praise to her teammates, saying, “We have many star players on the team. I’ve always played on top-ranking teams [throughout] my volleyball career [...] Being surrounded by good players always pushes you to perform at your best. So I don’t necessarily feel pressure to perform.”

“It’s more about the pressure I put on myself and the performance level that I strive for.”

Palermo and her young teammates have already reached a high level of performance, as they sit third in the OUA East with three regular season games to go.

Now it’s just a question of whether they can get over the quarter-final hump and make a real run at the OUA Championship.

But with lots of eligibility remaining and a consistently improving game, it’s safe to say this won’t be her only crack at it.

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