Tennis: Brisotti transitions from player to coach

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08/21/2014 8:30 AM |
Matt Brisotti, who holds the Drew University (N.J.) record for doubles wins with 64 and ranks fourth with 55 singles wins, now coaches the school's men's and women's teams. (Courtesy photo)

Matt Brisotti, who holds the Drew University (N.J.) record for doubles wins with 64 and ranks fourth with 55 singles wins, now coaches the school’s men’s and women’s teams. (Courtesy photo)

For some, the transition from player to head coach is a gradual process. For Matt Brisotti, it was a relatively sudden shift in gears.

Just 14 months after graduating from Drew University in Madison, N.J., as one of the most accomplished tennis players in school history, Brisotti accepted a position as the head coach of the College of St. Elizabeth (N.J.) women’s tennis team in September of 2013. He was 23 years old and, he believes, the youngest coach in the NCAA at the time.

Then, this past March, the opportunity for Brisotti to coach at his alma mater arose, and he snatched it.

Jeff Brandes, 49, who had coached the Drew men’s and women’s teams, left to pursue a business opportunity. That opened a coaching void that Brisotti pounced on.

“When I heard about it I was like, ‘If this works out, I have to take it,’ ” he said. “There was no way I could say no to it.”

The Mattituck man took charge of both teams at the school where he himself had starred not long ago. In fact, Brisotti found himself coaching some players who were his teammates when he played for the Rangers.

In turning to Brisotti, Drew hired someone with a record of success as a player, going back to his days playing for Mattituck High School. The Tuckers reached the playoffs in all but one of his five varsity seasons.

Brisotti, the player, represents a recruiting success story for Drew. To some college coaches who based their recruiting on the United States Tennis Association rankings, the All-County Brisotti might have been under the radar. But Brandes recognized Brisotti’s athleticism. The fact that Brisotti played soccer told Brandes that Brisotti was no stranger to hard work.

“For us to be successful, that’s what we’ve have to do, have a no-stone-unturned approach,” said Brandes.

Brisotti was considering other colleges, though. “I really had no idea what he was going to do,” said Brandes.

With a May 1 deadline to declare his intention, Brisotti didn’t commit to Drew until April 30.

Brisotti arrived at Drew with an injured shoulder. He didn’t play the first couple of weeks, but then he showed promise and consistency. Some technical points needed work, however.

“He was really like an athlete playing tennis,” Brandes said. “He didn’t come in with a huge tennis skill set. He didn’t have a heavy forehand. He didn’t have a kick serve. He didn’t attack the net a lot.”

But Brisotti listened, learned and applied what he learned on the court. The results spoke for themselves.

Brisotti enjoyed a tremendous four-year career at Drew. He is the school record holder for doubles wins with 64, and ranks fourth in the record books with 55 singles wins.

Meanwhile, the team thrived. During Brisotti’s time with them, the Rangers won four Landmark Conference championships, part of a remarkable string of 13 consecutive conference crowns and 109 straight conference dual-match wins over a period that started in 2000 and ended in 2013.

The Streak, as it was known, was a double-edged sword. It brought a lot of pride, but also a good deal of pressure.

In three of Brisotti’s four years, Drew made it to the NCAA Division III Tournament, advancing to the second round in all three of them.

“It’s just something that I’m not going to forget,” Brisotti said Saturday while recalling those times during a 55-minute phone interview.

Brisotti said his attraction to coaching really blossomed after his college graduation when he spent the summer coaching a couple of junior teams for The Strand Tennis Center in Chatham, N.J. He planned practices and found that he enjoyed having on impact on players. He said, “The more I did the coaching, I was like, ‘I really like this.’ ”

Brisotti said his adjustment to coaching went smoother than he might have expected. Being a young coach presented pluses and minuses. Brisotti saw it as an advantage that he understands how the modern game is played and he can relate to young players. He said he was concerned, however, if parents might be hesitant to hand over recruits to him because of his age.

As it turns out, Brisotti found recruiting to be his favorite part of the job.

Recruiting can be a bear, especially at a Division III school that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. Brandes knows only too well. “Recruiting alone can be a full-time job,” he said.

A coach on a recruiting trip is like a traveling salesman, selling his college. Brisotti not only likes it, but he seems to have a knack for it.

Brandes heard Brisotti speak to recruits at a player showcase. “I was like, ‘Damn, he’s good,’ ” said Brandes.

Brisotti is in charge of a roster of 12 women and about eight men. Neither team made it to the playoffs in Brisotti’s first year in charge.

“Right now we’re in a little bit of a rebuilding phase,” he said. “It will be alright, though.”

Brisotti said it’s important for a coach to maintain a cool temperament and be open to new ideas. He said he learned a lot about how to handle winning and losing from his Mattituck High School coach, Mike Huey.

“You win, that’s great,” Brisotti said. “You don’t gloat, shove it in their faces. You lose, you don’t stamp your feet.”

Huey said, “We went through that because he won so much that when he lost he didn’t take it kindly.”

Huey said he had not thought of Brisotti as a future coach when Brisotti played for him but, in retrospect, he noticed a quality in Brisotti that good coaches have. He said Brisotti “figured out how to win matches. His tennis IQ was very high and he did what he had to do to win matches.”

Recalling his experience playing for Mattituck, Brisotti said: “It was awesome, the five years that I had there. I really grew and developed.”

Now Brisotti is developing as a coach. His summer is about to end. His women’s team will start preseason practice on Sept. 2. The men’s team will begin practicing about a week later.

Brisotti’s former high school coach applauded his career choice.

“It’s not a bad thing when you wake up in the morning and you love what you do,” Huey said. “That’s not a bad thing.”

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