Organizer of the Month
October 18, 2019
Each month, USTA Eastern selects a passionate advocate who has made exceptional contributions within the community through tennis. This month we honor a college coach who built an entire tennis program from the ground up.
Starting From Scratch
He came out swinging. In his debut season as Manhattanville College’s Head Coach—and for that matter, in his debut season as a head coach anywhere—Derek DiFazio led the men’s tennis program to a 6-1 MAC Freedom conference record during the regular season. The team subsequently finished as runners-up in the conference tournament; three players received First Team All-MAC Freedom selections, while one, Jan Senerik, was named Rookie of the Year, and DiFazio himself collected the MAC Freedom Men's Coach of the Year designation. The women’s team, also under DiFazio’s leadership, finished their season with a winning conference record as well.ADVERTISEMENT
What makes the results and accolades even more impressive is that it also happened to be the debut season of the Manhattanville tennis program itself.
“When I was hired [in 2017] they were just finishing up putting in the courts, and there was no team on campus,” DiFazio explains now. “We were tasked with creating a brand new men’s and women’s tennis team. It was a learning process. We had to do everything from scratch.”
And he means everything. DiFazio and his then-assistant coach Alex Sandri spent a year building the program from the ground up, handling logistic after logistic: everything from recruiting players and scheduling tournaments to ordering equipment and putting up wind screens.
“It was a lot—it was stressful,” DiFazio says. “You’re not sure if it’s going to work…and once you get recruits on board, you’re kinda like ‘We better make this work, because these kids are coming here!’ But I couldn’t have asked for a better assistant coach. We were both in it together, and we knew we were going to put 100 percent into it and give it our all.”
The results speak for themselves. “The fact that we actually put together some pretty good teams and had success, it was a pretty amazing process from start to finish,” DiFazio says. “When I look around and see singles and doubles matches going on, parents watching. To think that a couple years ago none of this was here, that’s a good feeling.”
Head coach wasn’t the only new role for DiFazio at Manhattanville; he also now wears a professor hat. The college offers a Professional Tennis Management (PTM) minor for students interested in pursuing a coaching or administration position within the tennis industry, and DiFazio now serves as the program’s director.
“I was aware of the PTM track when I came here and I knew it could be a good recruiting tool, but I didn’t think I would take over the director job,” DiFazio says. “After I successfully got the teams off the ground, I ended up taking that on and taught my first class.”
DiFazio hopes to attract more students to the program, specifically citing the school’s tennis-rich location in Westchester. He’s already cultivating some success stories.
“The first course I taught was an on-court class on how to be a tennis pro, how to give a lesson to anyone from a kid to an adult,” he explains. “Some of those kids from that first class are already teaching lessons, and some have internships in the area. We talk about going to college to learn applicable skills that you can use after graduation. Forget about after graduation—here you can actually start working in the real world on weekends and during summers. It’s a really unique opportunity.”
Taking on the stewardship of an entire college program may seem like a formidable challenge—especially when you’re also managing two nascent tennis teams—but DiFazio shows a complete willingness to take on any daunting task. He cites his own experiences in the sport as a possible explanation. Growing up, the Flushing, N.Y. native initially played tennis just for fun after school in the park by the handball courts. (“It was totally informal,” he explains. “It was totally ‘Grab a racquet and figure it out.’”) He didn’t really receive any coaching and instruction in the sport until he was a teenager. Still, by the time he was 18, and just a few years after he started getting into tournaments, he’d procured the top Eastern junior ranking.
“It all starts with junior tennis,” he says now. “Getting into tournaments, and then seeing my ranking go up week-to-week…working hard and actually seeing results, that gave me a lot of confidence. So I just apply that to everything else that I try. Yeah, the ambitious things I get myself into, it gets a little bit crazy at times. And it doesn’t always work out. But you just throw yourself into it, and that’s how you learn.”
To see more information on Manhattanville’s PTM program click here.
Speak with Coach DiFazio at our 2019 College Showcase Day. Click here for more information and to register for the event.