Organizer of the Month
November 19, 2018
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has made unique contributions within the community through tennis. For 22 years, this coach has led one of the most consistent, decorated women’s tennis teams in the region. But he also cares deeply about his players’ academic pursuits.
Tennis Organizer of the Month: November 2018
Call him Mr. Consistency. Over the course of his 22-year career, Rob Bruley has coached the SUNY New Paltz women’s tennis program to five SUNYAC championship titles—including in 2018, when, energized by standout freshmen Trinity Chow and Lauren Koob, the team went undefeated (9-0) through their regular season. Even in the years they didn’t top the conference, the Hawks proved to be a tough out on the court; they’ve competed in every single final since 2002. During his tenure, Bruley himself has collected five SUNYAC Coach of the Year awards, while five of his players have gone on to take home the SUNYAC conference MVP. ADVERTISEMENT (Most recently, Chow received the honor for her stellar debut season.)
But it wasn’t always like this.
When Bruley, a U.K. native, took over as coach in 1997, he wasn’t exactly a known quantity or an expert in the sport. “I remember going over to a Barnes & Noble, buying a Tennis For Dummies book, sitting there before a practice and reading it,” he says now with a laugh.
In fact, Bruley hadn’t even come to New Paltz with the intention of coaching. He’d only crossed the pond at all because his wife had accepted a position with the university’s soccer team. Then word went out that the women’s tennis program faced the axe after its coach stepped down. Bruley, who played tennis recreationally, offered his services.
“This was on a Friday, and on that Monday the team was starting its pre-season,” Bruley recalls. “So off I went, not realizing it was one of the weakest programs in the conference at the time. You need six for a team and we only had five… I went over to the cafeteria on campus, I put signs up asking if anybody wanted to play tennis. This one young lady stepped forward and said, ‘I’ll play, but I don’t have a racquet.’ I said ‘Don’t worry about that, just show up tomorrow!’”
The team struggled that first year, going 1-14. Bruley’s Athletic Director was still encouraged, noting that the players seemed to be having a lot of fun despite losing so much. Over the next four seasons, the team continued to finish at the back of the pack, but Bruley worked on refining his coaching skills and educated himself on the recruitment process—beyond the campus cafeteria, of course. He also began attending USTA Eastern’s College Showcase Day. In 2002, the work paid off. Bruley put together a team that managed to catapult from the bottom to the top of the conference, capturing the first of those five SUNYAC championships. Improbably, that 2002 crew became first woman’s athletic program from New Paltz to do so.
“It’s a remarkable story, really,” Bruley says. “This is a program that started from rock bottom, had only five girls and no coach.”
The program hasn’t slowed down since, and that’s in large part a testament to Bruley. “I’m really a laid back coach,” he maintains. “I do expect one-hundred percent. I try to push them to their limits, and I want to get them to improve every day. And they want to be challenged as well. The type of student that comes to New Paltz now doesn’t want to just go through the motions.”
Bruley also credits USTA Eastern’s College Showcase Day for the consistency throughout the years. Bruley has attended the November event, which brings high school prospects and coaches together at the Saw Mill Tennis Club, his entire career. The numbers are undeniable: All five of New Paltz’s MVPs first touched base with Bruley at College Showcase Day, and five members of the current undefeated lineup, including Chow and Koob, were recruited from the showcase as well. This year at the event, Bruley had the opportunity to speak to parents about the recruitment process as part of a three-person coaching panel.
“I think the organizers of College Showcase Day do a fantastic job, they really do,” Bruley says. “It’s the highlight of our recruiting year and it really starts the ball rolling.”
Through College Showcase Day, Bruley expects that New Paltz can only get stronger and stronger. Tennis, though, is just part of Bruley’s coaching success. He’s immensely proud that his players are hard workers off the court as well. “In the 22 years I’ve been here, I think the lowest GPA we’ve had is a 3.2. Last year, we graduated a student all the way through her master’s program in four years with a 3.9. I think it’s important that parents realize coaches are there for their students academically as well as athletically,” he says.