Women's tennis still shrouded in secrecy

by Kyle Brasseur / Beacon Staff • October 10, 2013

1381383223 mason archive anum.jpg

There has been no announcement from the Emerson College Athletic Department regarding a recent major hire. 

There were no press releases or emails and the athletic department’s official website doesn’t make any mention of it. 

It’s almost as if the school never hired a new women’s tennis coach.

It did though.

Despite the radio silence, Emerson’s women’s tennis team has been operating under the leadership of coach Sue Sookiasian for nearly a month, having taken over the program following the Lions’ loss to Roger Williams University on Sept. 11. 

The news of Sookasian’s hiring was buried — she was not made available to the Beacon until Sept. 25 — along with the rest of a difficult three years for the program.

The tumult began with the resignation of then third-year coach Mason Astley who, in his time with Emerson, won the Great Northeast Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year Award in 2009 and led the Lions to a 10-1 record in 2010. 

Astley said he was offered an assistant coaching job at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010, and after deliberating with his family, he said he decided the move was in his best interest.

John Nestel replaced Astley for the 2011 season. Nestel had previously coached the women’s team at Mount Ida, and is currently a registered tennis pro working out of Cohasset, Mass., according to his personal website through the United States Professional Tennis Association.

At first Nestel appeared to make a seamless transition.

“As an incoming coach, I look forward to working with all of the student-athletes and [creating] a fun team atmosphere,” Nestel said in a preview of the 2011 women’s tennis season posted on Emerson’s official athletic website.

Nestel’s tenure did anything but, as he resigned five games into his first season. 

On his way out the door, Nestel accused Astley and the 2010 women’s team of stacking their lineup in order to gain an unfair advantage. He filed complaints with both the GNAC and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

Emerson was cleared of the allegations a week after Nestel’s departure.

Angel Prinos, associate director of the ITA, said in an October 2011 interview with the Beacon that a team is allowed to play its top two players on separate doubles teams so long as the No. 1 doubles team is still the team’s strongest pairing. 

Nestel said in the same article, published on Oct. 6, 2011, that he had a different understanding of the rule. Nestel could not be reached at present for a follow-up comment on the situation. 

Astley agreed to speak with the Beacon to look back on what transpired.

“For whatever reason, it didn’t seem like [Nestel] wanted to be there or he was uncomfortable about something,” Astley said in a phone interview. “I’ve never talked to him about it and I haven’t even had to talk to administrators or anyone at Emerson about it.”

As a result of Nestel’s resignation, the team played the majority of its 2011 season without a coach. Last year, men’s head coach Gavin Barton — who was hired before the team’s 2012 season to replace Nestel — coached the women’s team to an appearance in the GNAC Championship.

The Lions began this season with women’s basketball coach Bill Gould stepping in to fill the team’s coaching vacancy on an interim basis before Sookiasian’s hiring. Of Gould’s two matches as coach, both losses, one came against New England Men’s and Women’s Athletic Conference rival MIT, coached by Astley, on Sept. 7.

“I think Bill would be the first one to tell you that he was just doing his best in the situation,” Astley said before mentioning that even he had heard no news of Sookiasian’s hiring.

The Beacon requested interviews with interim athletic director Stanford Nance and several players on the coaching situation, but both requests were declined through Sports Information Director Kerry Howe.  In an email to the Beacon, Howe stated that the topic “specifically isn’t one the athletes or the department would really like to speak on.”