Given his prior athletic history, Chris Frusci’s current position at NYIT in Old Westbury is, at the very least, surprising.The 2004 graduate was a member of the Owls football, basketball, and baseball programs, and played each sport for all four years of his high school career before attending Muhlenberg on a football scholarship.
So, it came as a bit of a shock when the three-sport athlete was named head coach of the NYIT men’s and women’s tennis teams last summer.
Frusci chalks up the opportunity to being in “the right place at the right time.” He had been working at NYIT when the school began its tennis program in 2010. Head coach Kelly Waters, not wanting to tackle the task alone, asked him to be her assistant. Frusci was more than willing to accept the challenge.
“I’m a competitor. I played college sports and know how it works,” Frusci said. “I do know the game of tennis. I’ve been around it my whole life and have been following it. It’s a great sport to watch.”
When Waters left the team in May, Frusci was named interim head coach - later getting that tag removed and gaining full control of the program. Once he got the job, the former college quarterback immersed himself in the world of hard courts.
“I did a lot of reading, went to clinics, and watched some Division One coaches work their practices,” he said.
His research paid off. The men’s team finished 11-11 overall in Frusci’s first season, 2-2 in East Coast Conference play. That record earned the Bears the sixth seed in the 2012 NCAA East Regional. They will face the third-seeded University of D.C Firebirds on Monday in New Hampshire.
Having never played tennis at an organized level, Frusci wondered how his players would respond to a coach who didn’t play in college, or even high school. This concern was soon eliminated.
“I think I earned their respect pretty quickly once they realized my knowledge of the game, (saw) how I ran my practices, and how dedicated I was to coaching,” he said.
As a first year coach of a second year program, Frusci both relishes and understands the Bears’ role as an underdog in the NCAA tournament.
“Being an underdog, you have to take it for what it’s worth,” Frusci said. “Our first round match is against a team that beat us three times this year. But, we were in every match. These are different circumstances. It’s a different atmosphere and on a neutral court. I think our team believes that we can win this first round matchup.”
Frusci, who was named Lynbrook Athlete of the Year after his senior season, cites Owls football coach Joe Knoll and baseball coach Al Marrazzo as his coaching influences.
“As a player, you don’t really understand the motives of the coach, why they’re so disciplined and why they do what they do,” Frusci said of Knoll. “Now that I’m on the other side of things, I try to emulate everything that he was about.”
If NYIT wins on Monday, they will face second ranked Queens College in the next round.
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