One of the most notable coaching careers in Suffolk County high school girls volleyball was born with no prior notice or fanfare.
On his first day of school as a math teacher, Frank Massa was walking down a hallway near the Mattituck High School cafeteria when the principal, Bruno Brauner, suddenly told him that he was the school’s new girls volleyball coach.
Welcome aboard, coach!
Thirty-two years have passed, and Massa remains Mattituck’s coach.
“I didn’t think that it would have went this long,” he said. “I stuck with the volleyball and never regretted it after that.”
No need for regrets, just accolades.
Massa, 58, has been named The Suffolk Times’ 2018 Sports Person of the Year in recognition of his service and success with the program, which he has embraced and built into a respected power. He is Mr. Mattituck Volleyball.
Under Massa, the Tuckers have won six Long Island Class C championships and have competed in the state semifinal pool as many times, including this past fall when they went 16-2. They qualified for the playoffs for a 16th straight year, going on to claim a sixth Suffolk County title in nine years and seventh in 16 years. In 2018, Mattituck finished first in League VIII for its second league crown and first since 2004.
Massa has presided over the golden era of Mattituck volleyball that began in 2010, when the team reached the state tournament in Glens Falls for the first time. In 2015, the Tuckers went 17-4 with the most wins Massa has enjoyed in a season.
A significant change came in 2003, by which time all Suffolk teams had made the move from the spring season to the fall. That change suited Mattituck fine. Massa’s Tuckers have a 177-111 (.615) record since then.
Massa and Toni Mulgrave, the Bayport-Blue Point coach and president of the Suffolk County Girls Volleyball Coaches Association, believe Lenny Zaloga of Westhampton Beach and Kathryn McGeehan of East Hampton are the only active Suffolk coaches with more service time than Massa.
Massa’s imprint is all over the Mattituck program. In addition to coaching the varsity team, he has coached a Mattituck junior high school team for about 30 years.
Some of Massa’s best work came during lean times, when girls volleyball was played in the spring and he wasn’t getting the school’s best athletes. Nonetheless, he taught players defense, how to serve consistently, and made them competitive.
Instilling motivation and developing relationships with players are a big part of coaching, and Massa has received high marks for both.
“The interesting thing about Frank is he can carry a large roster and make everybody feel important and special, and that’s not easy to do for athletes who don’t get a lot of playing time to still be happy participating in the sport,” said Gregg Wormuth, who is in his 10th year as Mattituck’s athletic director.
Mattituck junior varsity coach Kelly Pickering can attest to that. She has had a front-row seat for half of Massa’s coaching career, spending 16 years coaching with him. (The two each coach one of Mattituck’s two junior high teams.) “He validates every player on the team, regardless of how much or how little playing time [they get], and they all respect him,” she said.
After those thoughts were relayed to him, Massa said: “If that’s something that I’m doing, then boy am I happy about that. That’s a real nice thing to say. I hope it’s the truth.”
Mattituck senior middle hitter Jillian Gaffga said Massa is a popular coach and teacher, who will help players with their math before or after practice. “Everyone loves him,” she said. “He like gets us. He knows when to push us, knows when not to. His coaching ways are really well-respected.”
Massa has earned the respect of his opponents. Mulgrave said Massa “is such a class act. He coaches the girls the right way. He coaches with so much passion and he gets the most out of all his girls all the time. The girls love him.”
Massa played football and baseball for Patchogue-Medford High School. He had also played two years for a middle school volleyball team and later played in a men’s volleyball league.
It was in volleyball where he made his mark as a coach. Massa doesn’t know what his career win-loss record is. Perhaps an even more interesting statistic, however, would be how many players he has coached. Massa estimates he has worked with 1,000 Mattituck players over the years.
“The one thing that I kind of take pride in is that we’ve had a lot of girls on the team and I can’t remember any girl walking off the team,” he said. “For the most part, once they get in, they stay in.”
The Massas are a sports family. Frank and his wife, Deana, have two daughters, Maddy and Gabrielle, who played volleyball, and one son, Jack, who played baseball for Canisius College in Buffalo.
For the most part, Massa keeps his calm on the sideline.
“He’s not very emotional, but you know when something’s really good and when something’s really bad because he’ll have a little shift in his demeanor,” Wormuth said. “Coaching is not easy. It’s not easy to manage student personalities, community influence, parental involvement, but Frank has, I think, a very unique way of making everyone feel comfortable.”
Massa said sports are the fun part of school. He said: “I always tell the girls, ‘You may not remember Pythagorean theorem, but you’re going to remember how you did against John Glenn or against Pierson. You’ll remember that stuff for the rest of your life.’ It’s something that keeps them going. It’s a good positive outlet for them and most of the time they’re smiling.”
That’s just what Massa has been doing for the better part of 32 years.
Photo caption: Mattituck volleyball coach Frank Massa helped guide the Tuckers to the state semifinals this past season. (Garret Meade photo)