Fugarino emerging as talented Libero for young Hawkeyes

BY KYLE MANN | OCTOBER 01, 2014 5:00 AM

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With just about a month of the season in the books, Iowa volleyball’s uniquely large recruiting class has been a large talking point. The group was highly touted in the preseason, and several newcomers have emerged as impact players.

Among them — Michelle Fugarino, though small in stature — has proven she provides a sizable contribution to head coach Bond Shymansky’s new system.

Standing only 5-5, Fugarino stands out on the court as the shortest player for the Hawkeyes. But make no mistake, her size does not define her; she possesses elite, specialized skills that have fueled her success throughout her career.

The freshman libero was a two-time first-team All-State selection at Muskego (Wisconsin) High, and she also received All-America honors in her club career with the Milwaukee Sting. She was recognized by Prep Volleyball as a two-time Defensive Dandy and was named a Senior Ace in 2013, placing her in the top 150 senior volleyball players.

It’s also worth noting that Fugarino makes up for her lack of height with impressive quickness and overall athleticism. She was a state champion gymnast at age 8 in 2004.

Now, Fugarino’s impressive abilities have landed her in Iowa’s starting lineup, and that’s not all — she’s playing very well.

“Michelle earned the starting libero spot for us by really being the best passer in the gym,” Shymansky said. “She’s our anchor back there as a ball-control player.”

She has controlled the ball particularly well for a freshman. Her 4.38 digs per set ranks her 104th in the nation and is good for sixth among all Division-I freshmen.

In this regard, as could be applied to most liberos — her size, as well as her athleticism — actually serve to provide her an advantage.

“You don’t have to be tall to be a libero; she gets under the balls really well,” defensive specialist Julianne Blomberg said. “She has great ball control, serve-receive is definitely one of her best attributes that she has and brings to the team.”

Being anointed the best passer on the team and being relied on as the player to maintain ball control is a tall task for the short freshman, but luckily, it’s exactly what Fugarino wants to do.

“One of my strengths is bringing togetherness to the team and trying to keep everybody on the same page,” Fugarino said. “I think my strengths would be just passing in general.”

She likely never would have imagined she’d be in the position and playing the role for the team that she is this early in her career. While she understandably admits to an adjustment period, she is quickly becoming more comfortable at Iowa.

“Any transition coming from high school to college can be overwhelming. Everything’s new and being away from home,” Fugarino said. “But being closer with the team has helped a lot. Getting to know everybody and the city has made everything easier.”

Shymansky has been pleasantly surprised by Fugarino’s quick arrival, and he has high hopes for the freshman as her career progresses.

“This is really just the tip of the iceberg for her, only a month into her college career,” he said. “She has a great volleyball IQ, and her anticipation and reading skills are really high. There’s a lot of great future ahead of her for sure.”

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