When Charlotte Latin informed me Thursday that legendary volleyball coach Suzie Pignetti was going to retire in the summer, it got me thinking about her place in history.
To me, shes one of the best coaches to ever work in Mecklenburg County.
This season, her team won its ninth straight N.C. 3A Independent Schools state championship, and private school is the class of all volleyball in all of North Carolina. And this year, Latin was the best team, public or private, in the state.
Pignetti, 68, finishes her career with 29 conference championships and 15 state championships in 35 seasons. Her career mark of 745-120 is mindboggling. Thats an average record of 21-3. Its an amazing record of consistency and resiliency.
I asked her this week to pick out a favorite memory. Not surprisingly, she couldnt think of just one. Theres just been too many great teams and great players.
The best part of being a coach is the relationships you develop with players and the talking and teaching and counseling, she said. And then they come back and I see them graduate college and go to work for these wonderful companies and they have their own families. Thats the greatest thing about it.
Pignetti and her husband Pete moved to Charlotte in the late 1960s. When she got a job at Country Day in 1973, the school had girls basketball and tennis but not volleyball. In fact, she doesnt remember any Charlotte school having the sport.
She started a team at Country Day in 1974. That first team had to practice outside because school officials didnt want to put volleyball lines on the basketball court.
It was the birth of volleyball at that time, she said.
In 1977, Country Day finished second in the first state tournament. In 1978, Pignetti won her first state championship. That started a long run of success.
Pignetti briefly got out of coaching in the 90s but just before she got back into teaching and coaching at Butler, in 1997, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She had four rounds of chemotherapy just before she started work and luckily, shes been cancer free ever since.
Later, after eventually moving to Charlotte Latin, she had an idea to start a tournament to raise money for breast cancer research. In the past 11 years, Serve For The Cure has featured many of the areas best teams and has raised more than $300,000.
Volleyball, Pignetti said, is such a good venue to get young girls together and have a fun day, and theres a more serious concept behind why we would all be together. Its developed into one of my most favorite days of the year.
Pignettis leaving high school, but she wont go far. Shell chair Serve For The Cure next year and shell continue to serve as director of Carolina Junior Volleyball, a six-team travel club for girls 13 to 18.
But she felt like this year was the time to go.
In November, she was named American Volleyball Coaches Association national coach of the year, and several players she saw grow up at Latin are seniors now and will be graduating.
Every year, she would meet with Charlotte Latin headmaster Arch McIntosh to talk about the next year. This year, she told McIntosh it was time. He asked her who she would recommend as a successor and Pignetti quickly named Zoe Bell, the Ardrey Kell coach who, like Pignetti, is among the best in county history.
Now, with Bell in place as Latins new coach and her place in history permanently marked, Pignetti said she will still watch the girls play. She just wont coach them anymore.
It worked out as Id planned and as Id wanted, she said. I feel so at peace that Im leaving at this time and as I look back at what we accomplished as teams together, I feel good about that. And I feel good anticipating what Ill do and about Zoe coming in next year and taking over. The programs in good hands.