Priscilla Palermo embraces her underdog status on the court

Michelle Gould

Priscilla Palermo has never let her stature or image affect her athletic performance. In fact, she has utilized her size as an advantage against opponents who underestimate her. Palermo’s journey to CSU has been a test of proving others wrong, dominating courts her opponents claim as their own and having faith in her capabilities.

Born in Elmhurst, Ill., Palermo grew up setting her sights on success in athletics and thrived.


Player hits ball wit racquet
Priscilla Palermo sends a shot back to an opponent at the John Messick Invitational on Oct. 8 (Photo courtesy of Priscilla Palermo)

Basketball was the first sport picked up by Palermo, following in her father’s footsteps who played at St. Francis College of Brooklyn. The team aspect drew her in as she was able to spend time with friends while excelling in sport.

Palermo is ambidextrous, giving her the upper hand on the basketball court to attack the basket from both the right and left side, in turn becoming the MVP of her junior high team.

However, one sport just simply wasn’t enough.

Her father, Chris Palermo, took it upon himself to introduce a new court to Priscilla. He signed his daughter up for tennis groups, clubs, tournaments – anything related to playing the sport that would give her an opportunity to succeed.

 At the age of 11, Palermo and her father began their endeavor on the road to Division I athletics, despite the initial reluctance of a private coach, Tom Lockhart.

“When I first brought Priscilla to see him, he said that she wasn’t good enough to play in this group.” Chris Palermo said. “I explained to him that she was dominantly right-handed but playing lefty, so he decided she could be coachable.”

An obstacle overcome, Palermo began training with Lockhart despite being the weakest of the group. With a newfound passion for tennis, Priscilla’s other interest, basketball, began to fade.

The dream was to play for a Division I program; now she had to decide which sport.

The hectic schedule balancing tennis practice from 6:30-8 a.m., attending an eight-hour school day, rushing to basketball practice from 3-5 p.m. then ending the day with a homework load was too much for the zealous middle schooler.

Her accolades in the tennis circuit outweighed her love for basketball, resulting in a choice her freshman year of high school to follow a tennis path to college athletics.


“It was just one or the other, which one I would be more realistically good at?” Palermo said. “I had already put so many hours into it and I had so many good friends from traveling to tournaments.”

Palermo began playing at Glenbard East High School and started rigorous training both on and off the court, attending strength training with former UFC fighter Mark Roesnik. Training sessions included swinging an eight-pound baseball bat filled with sand to strengthen her non-dominant arm.

After making the All-State team her freshman year of high school, holding a high school career prep record of 55-8, and becoming the only player in her school’s history to win sectionals in Chicago, Palermo’s quest to improve her ranking in tennis was still not satisfied by her high school accolades.

She took it upon herself to leave the high school circuit during her junior year and compete solely for open tournaments, practicing under Lockhart.

“She started training seven days a week,” her father said. “She just really wanted to be good and from there she started getting serious with it.”

Palermo’s persistent grind continued to go unnoticed, something she used to her advantage. She continued to challenge herself, playing 5-star recruits to improve her ranking, as well as beat players who underestimated her.

“I was the underdog.” Palermo said. “I was smaller than average.”

Priscilla Palermo prepares to return a shot from her opponent. (Photo courtesy of Priscilla Palermo)

Western Michigan gave Palermo confidence, being the first school to offer her a scholarship. Palermo thrived off this offer and began contacting schools to take official visits.

She started sending out videos from a myriad of matches to coaches, including a few from the Big 12 Conference, but was told by one Big 12 coach that she was not good enough to play at any school in the conference.

This comment only fueled Palermo’s persistence and passion for the sport.

CSU head coach Jarod Camerota gave Palermo the chance to achieve her dream and give her the necessary challenge to improve her talents.

“Jarod Camerota reached out to me my junior year and asked me to take a visit to CSU after watching me play,” Palermo added. “I came to campus my junior year in January and fell in love.”

Palermo committed to Colorado State University shortly after her visit, proving her competitors and other Division I coaches wrong.

“Some of the college coaches didn’t understand that she’s a late bloomer,” her father said. “She’s getting better now while most girls are getting worse. Her left hand is just getting stronger. She’s just kind of a small kid.”

This season, Palermo has continued to do what she does best: prove doubters wrong.

She has already won her first collegiate tournament at the John Messick Invitational, which included a win against Big 12 opponent Iowa State (6-0, 6-3).

Palermo’s goal to become nationally ranked isn’t far out of reach as she already the second-best singles record on CSU’s roster as a freshman.

Palermo continues to stay motivated by taking the role of the underdog, attributing her rolling success to her teammates.

“My team motivates me.” Palermo said. “We want to win for the team, it’s not individual anymore.”

With almost 14 years of dedication to the sport of tennis, Palermo is just getting started. The sleepless nights, insurmountable stress and numerous hours spent on the court has finally paid of for Palermo.

“It’s all worth it,” she said.

Collegian sports reporter Michelle Gouldd can be reached by email at or on Twitter @michellegouldd.