Leanne Palmisano, 1982-85, always thought her strength was as a doubles player, maybe because she grew up playing tennis with her sister and brother Sandi and Steve. In her senior year at UNM, she discovered that she had a singles game … and it took her to the NCAAs.
Palmisano’s accomplishments peaked in 1985 when she became the first UNM woman tennis player to qualify for the NCAA Division I Tennis Championships. That year she won the Intermountain Conference Tournament in both singles and doubles and was named to the high Country All-Conference team for the second time. She was also named the Lobos’ team MVP. Her senior year she came into her own as a player and a leader.
“Doubles was my specialty. When I played with Kelli Fackel, we were nationally ranked my junior year, but didn’t make NCAA. In my senior year, my single play took off. I played several nationally ranked top-10 players and was fortunate to beat them,” Palmisano said.
An Albuquerque native, Palmisano was excited to play tennis at UNM. “Many recruits are from out-of-state or even outside the country. The opportunity to play in my hometown, at my hometown university was an honor,” she said. An added bonus, she said, was that she got to play for two years with her sister Sandi, two years her senior. St. Pius X and UNM gave her pride in being a student athlete. “They gave me the discipline and structure to get schoolwork and teamwork done. Teachers, coaches, parents, everyone helped us become prepared.”
She remembers coaches, teammates, students and faculty fondly. “Playing at UNM put me with a great group of girls,” she said. Coach Helen Horn was also an Albuquerque native. “She was very supportive and tried to install good work ethic with us. She even travelled with me to NCAAs,” Palmisano recalled.
Palmisano made her way from the baseline to the sideline when she transitioned from player to coach after graduating. She only coached the Lobos one year, but she continued to coach as she moved to Colorado to serve as head coach for both men’s and women’s tennis at the University of Denver. She brought out the best in her players, exemplified by conference championships three of the four years she coached there.
For the past 20 years Palmisano has served as director of tennis for the Crestmoor Tennis Association in Denver. As nominator Brooke Granville wrote, “She daily demonstrates her love of the game and that becomes contagious. Whether she is working with a group of tiny tots … or hitting against a teenager she has taught over the years…her devotion shines through.”
Palmisano views her induction into the UNM Alumni Lettermen’s Association Hall of Honor as an unexpected accolade. “I didn’t anticipate it. It is dear to my heart, and I am privileged to be part of it and part of the group of honorees,” she said.
More than for herself, however, Leanne feels the honor is for her father, Leon Palmisano, who died in 2005. “He was an alumni letterman who played baseball and basketball during the fifties. He would have been thrilled. He would’ve gone crazy,” she said.