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When someone dies after a bout with cancer, it's sometimes said he or she "lost" the battle. In many cases, that's not accurate. And it would be a flat-out lie when it comes to Linda Zacchilli.

The legendary Milford High School coach and matriarch of both the boys and girls volleyball programs passed away last week at the age of 68.

"All of those words you hear apply, an icon, a role model, a mentor," said Tammy Webber, who first met Zacchilli as a middle schooler before playing for and coaching with the Hall of Famer.

"Volleyball had always been the link, but we were friends," said Webber, who now coaches the MHS girls. "She was a truly strong willed person who fights for what she believes in. I was always lucky enough to be on her side."

Milford Athletic Director Peter Boucher said the loss has hit the school hard, in large part because of the vast number of students, teachers and staff who either played for Zacchilli or had her in class during her time as a teacher in the school system.

"She did things exactly the way you want things done," Boucher said. "She taught her athletes to really strive to be successful in everything they do, those types of coaches are hard to find and we were lucky to have her."

"You just love the woman," Boucher added. "You can't help but love her."

First diagnosed with an endometrial, or uterine, cancer in 2009, she returned to coaching after surgery and was on the bench through a relapse in 2015 before retiring after the disease struck a third time in 2017.

Cancer found out what the rest of the state already knew damn well, Linda Zacchilli doesn't lose. She started the girls' volleyball program in 1974 and created the boys' program 11 years later. She won more than 700 games, 26 league titles, 11 district championships and earned spots in multiple halls of fame along the way.

Current Milford High boys' coach Andrew Mainini said he doesn't think the programs would have had anywhere near the level of success without her guidance

Linda Zachilli

and instance on holding her players to the highest standard. But she was at her toughest when defending her athletes.

"She went to bat for her players," Mainini said. "She was the person backing them and representing them, she defended the people she cared about."

The wife of longtime Milford coach and Athletic Director, Nick Zacchilli, and the mother of three boys, Michael, Chris and Peter, who share their parents' love for sports, Linda Zacchilli was remembered for more than her strength. She was also a sensitive, caring and nurturing person, her former players said.

Brittany Hill played four years of volleyball at MHS and went on to become an oncology nurse at Dana- Farber Cancer Institute. She recalled seeing her coach in the waiting room.

"I remember kneeling down in front of her and holding each other's hands and it was just like we were back in the huddle," Hill said. "Coach taught us to fight until the last point of every game and she fought to the last breath of her life. She never quit, she never lost her spirit, her passion, her hope. That's a winner."


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