A new chapter of women’s volleyball has arrived at the University of New Hampshire, as Christopher Feliciano has been hired as the seventh Head Coach in the history of the program. Feliciano takes over for former UNH Head Coach Jill Hirschinger, who retired this past November following 40 seasons, 781 wins and seven league championships during her tenure.
Feliciano has spent the last eight years coaching at Rider University, where he turned around a struggling program, eventually becoming the winningest coach in Rider history with 117 wins. Before he arrived, Rider was ranked second to last in the country in terms of RPI (rating percentage index).
Originally a basketball player, he gives his mother credit for introducing him to the sport. “My mom kept on hinting to me, ‘why don’t you try volleyball?’, and I was like ‘no I don’t want to try volleyball,’ but my mom kept going at it and finally I decided to go to a practice with her, and it came to me naturally.”
The first instance of Feliciano getting the natural feel for the game came when he hit a slide for the first time. “If you take a layup, it’s a slide approach, so I was able to do that right away when I was 14 and I gave up basketball to play volleyball.”
Volleyball clicked with Feliciano from the beginning, to say the least.
A graduate of New Jersey City University, Feliciano was quickly hired as the school’s women’s volleyball coach upon his graduation in May 2003.
Feliciano got into coaching from an early age. In high school, he had a strong relationship with a teacher by the name of Mrs. Brooks who headed the school’s volleyball club.
“She knew that I played volleyball, so she would come to me every once in a while, asking about certain parts of the game. One day, she was supposed to cover an open gym for the volleyball team, but she couldn’t go so she asked me if I could go and cover for her. I went, and instead of covering I actually ran a little practice. The high school coach saw me run the practice, so she asked me to become the JV coach, so I became the JV coach the following year.”
Feliciano coached at Union High School in New Jersey for three years and won a county championship as varsity coach and won back-to-back JV championships.
Before becoming head coach at Rider, Feliciano was an assistant at Fordham University where the Rams won 17 games in his lone season in the Bronx.
In his third season at Rider, Feliciano led the Broncs to their most wins in a decade while improving their win total for the third year in a row.
Feliciano attributes part of his success at Rider to his resilient nature. “We were of the mindset that we could win no matter what the obstacle was. I’m not a guy that quits. I’m someone that will find a way to get it done.” The success would continue, as the Broncs finished each of the following seasons with at least 16 wins.
In addition, Feliciano spoke on his strategy to attract strong athletes to his program. With a positive mindset, Feliciano has been able to find constructive building blocks as he crafted his team. “It’s just a vision… even in the worst seasons, you can find a ton of positives in terms of experience and student welfare,” he said. “We made sure that we hit home with a lot of these things as we created this really positive culture within the program.”
Nowadays, student athletes seem to be trending towards programs with a positive environment instead of playing for the traditional put your head down and go to work style of team. Feliciano plans on bringing the same progressive mindset to the UNH program, and the returning players are already on the same page as they try to improve upon last season.
The Wildcats finished 12-15 overall last season, including an early exit in the America East Tournament. Feliciano seems eager to improve the program.
“We’re going to be creative with what we’re trying to do. We have seven outstanding young ladies in the gym who I’ve become very fond of because of their work ethic and their determination to be great.”
The team is still in the process of adding new talent, as they look to have a full roster come fall.
Feliciano spoke on his expectations from the team. “You’re going to see a team that will work hard every day, a team that’s together, a team that’s respectful, and a team that is grateful to be playing the sport that they love.”
Of course, the overarching goal is to bring the Wildcats back to title contention. Feliciano emphasizes that there is a process in becoming a champion, and his players “need to re-fall in love with the work.”
Junior outside hitter Kennedi Smith is grateful for the work Feliciano has put in for the team early on.
“He’s working really hard on learning each personality and what helps us to be great individually as a team,” said Smith. “We really appreciate everything he has done since he arrived.”
When the season rolls around, fans can look forward to watching a scrappy, blue-collar team that will fight for each point until they reach their goal of bringing an America East title back to Durham.