Aug. 17, 2017
The quest for a challenge is what drives an athlete to be a success.
That mentality doesn’t change when that athlete becomes a coach.
Claudio Pinheiro’s quest for a challenge is what has brought him to The Flats, where he is about to begin his first season as an assistant coach for Georgia Tech volleyball.
Here’s his new challenge: give up winning at the highest level in the world with the powerful Brazil national team and come to Atlanta to help Georgia Tech continue its ascension after a 2016 season in which the Jackets were 24-8 (15-5 in the ACC) and narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament. They’ll also come into 2017 having to replace five key seniors.
Where Pinheiro will most be counted on comes in replacing graduated setter Rebecca Martin, a four-year starter who finished fifth in program history with 3,505 assists and seventh with 8.65 assists per game.
“I’m really excited. it’s almost like starting a new career here in the U.S.,” said the native of Rio de Janeiro, speaking through head coach Michelle Collier. “New challenges, new things to learn, and grow. I’m really happy for the opportunity. I definitely see the level of commitment to the program and everybody involved with the program – from the coaching staff to the players to the administration — and how committed everyone is to making this the best program possible. I’m happy to be in an environment like this.”
He should be. What better place than Georgia Tech is there for an engineer?
“My whole family was all chemical engineers,” Pinheiro said. “I was going on that path. I started at [Universidade Gama Filho] as a chemical engineer but then got invited to go coach with the Brazilian National Team. That’s when I decided to change my career path, study physical education and went to coach on the Brazilian team. I’m happy with my choice because it’s led me to two Olympic gold medals and lots of world and other championships. It’s been a very rewarding career. So I’m definitely happy I made that decision.”
The rest is history. It’s a history that has been well chronicled.
He helped lead the Brazil women’s national team to back-to-back Olympic Gold in 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 (London), to runner-up finishes in the ‘06 and ‘10 Women’s Volleyball World Championships, the ‘11 Pan Am Games championship and second-place finishes in ‘07 and ‘15. His teams dominated the World Grand Prix, as between 2004 and 2016, they finished first eight times, second three times and third once. They also held a monopoly in the South American Championships, winning six straight (2005-2015).
He would now like to assist in expanding Georgia Tech Volleyball’s trophy case.
“I know that everything that I’ve done in the past doesn’t guarantee that I’m going to be successful in the future,” he said. “But I understand what got me there in the past, when it comes to hard work and discipline and all those things that I had to commit myself to in order to do that. I’m ready to do that here as well.”
Pinheiro’s specialty is developing setters and his success stories include three of the world’s elites. He coached Rosa Garcia, who led Peru to a silver medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Russian Irina Kirillova, who was the setter on the winning side of the ‘88 gold medal game and is still considered one of Russia’s best players ever, and Hélia Rogério de Souza, who passed Brazil to gold in ‘08 and bronze medals in 1996 and 2000. Nicknamed ‘Fofão,’ de Souza is considered one of the greatest setters ever to take the floor in Brazil.
It’s understandable that Collier, who used Pinheiro as a consultant in 2016, made him a full-time assistant for 2017, officially hiring him on Aug. 7.
“I have close friends who played for him and we know a lot of people in common. I have known of him for a long time but we only met when our team went to visit the Brazilian national team training center last summer during our foreign trip,” said Collier, who brings a 55-40 record (30-28 in the ACC) into her third season. “Having the opportunity to work with somebody like Claudio, to be able to bring him here, and our players to able to have the opportunity to work with somebody who’s been around the best players in the world and has done so much for the sport of volleyball, it’s just a very unique opportunity that we’re grateful for.”
Freshman setter Nicole Alford was more than grateful. She was blown away by the opportunity to learn from such a world renowned figure.
“When Michelle sent me his resume and said, ‘This is going to be your new setting coach,’ I got butterflies,” she said. “I was so excited and I was so ready to be working in the gym with him.”
Preseason training with him has lived up to her hype.
“Working with Claudio is amazing. I feel myself getting better every single day,” said Alford. “I’m just soaking in everything that he says because he has so much experience. I know he can make me and this entire program so much better so it’s really, really inspiring to have someone who has coached at such a high level.”
While Pinheiro likes what he’s seen in Tech’s setting duo of Alford and senior Gabby Benda he knows they still have growing to do within the position.
“The setter is a tough position. You have to play volleyball for a very long time to become really good at it,” he said. “Even though they’re 18, 21 years old, they haven’t played the game the amount of time that they need to play the game to become an expert in their positions. So there’s a lot of room for growth.
“Right now Gabby is a little more experienced than Nicole in the college game. They’re both very young for the position,” he said. “Nicole’s starting to develop her game at this level so there is so much room for growth and potential.”
A big part of that growth and potential for both, especially with freshman Alford, can only come with playing.
“She is now just starting to acquire the experience level. In Brazil we call it a bank of data,” Pinheiro said. “It’s something in your head that you can relate to in every situation of the game and have the answers for it automatically. That comes with experience. So she’s adapting really well to the college game and she’s going to be on the court.
“Tom Brady for example,” he added. “He’s been playing the game for so long and everybody thinks he’s going to stop. He keeps getting better and keeps playing more and more games. It’s the same thing at the setting position. The more you play this game the better and better you become at it.”