Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Down 6-2 in a 2018 semifinal match, VCU senior Paola Diaz-Delgado looked to the sidelines for help from then-graduate assistant Vivian Segnini.
Diaz-Delgado said advice from Segnini, who was hired as head coach of the women’s tennis team on Aug.18, helped her finish the next two sets.
“She told me one thing to do, and the match basically changed,” Diaz-Delgado said of Sengini’s advice. “It was incredible.”
The tip turned the match around for Diaz-Delgado, who won the next two sets of the 2018 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Regional 6-4 and 6-3 to advance to the final. She went on to win the tournament and credited Segnini’s guidance.
“I won this match and I won the tournament, and I really think it was thanks to her,” Diaz-Delgado said. “In that moment, I was like ‘OK, she’s really helpful.’”
The Almeria, Spain, native said Segnini’s support allowed her to believe in herself.
“She would make me believe that you have to have hope in this match and you have to keep going,” Diaz-Delgado said. “I was pumped, like if you say that, it must be true.”
Diaz-Delgado’s game improved during the 2018 season under former coach Paul Kostin and Segnini. She finished as an ITA All-American and advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
Segnini left the program after the 2018 season to become the head coach at her alma mater, Winthrop University in North Carolina. From 2013-18 and during her time at VCU, she was an assistant coach with the Winthrop Eagles.
When Kostin retired in April, Diaz-Delgado said she was surprised, but she hoped Segnini would be the one to replace him. Four months later, her wish came true when Segnini was announced as the head coach.
“I wanted her to become head coach because I knew that she was going to fit with this program,” Diaz-Delgado said. “She was going to fit in the environment that we have in our team, and I really like her as a coach.”
Diaz-Delgado said she can connect easily with Segnini because she played tennis at a high level and can communicate with her in Spanish.
Segnini played professionally from 2004-12, earning a singles ranking as high as No. 275 in the world. She was the highest-ranked player from Brazil in 2008 and 2011.
The Sao Carlos, Brazil, native said her professional career is useful in coaching because she knows how to win tough matches and can advise players in difficult situations.
“My experience as a professional is very valuable for my job,” Segnini said. “I know how they feel and I know what is required to become a good player.”
Segnini said watching Kostin taught her how to work with the players, similarly to how she did with Diaz-Delgado in the ITA regional.
“He was also very good with the players,” Segnini said, “getting the best out of each player and finding a way to get the best out of each athlete.”
Segnini said her previous experience at VCU was one of the reasons she was hired to replace Kostin as the head coach. Segnini said she helped recruit some of the younger players on the team this season during the 2018 stint in Richmond.
“I think I was able to contribute a little bit and just the fact that people met me, saw the way I worked, the way I am,” Segnini said. “They liked what I did. If I didn’t work here before, I don’t know if I would be here today.”