For all he’s facing, Frankie Coto remains remarkably cool, calm, and collected. His relaxed demeanor defies the situation Coto found himself this year.
He is the lone senior on an Eastern Mennonite University men’s volleyball squad that has had two straight losing seasons and lost their top four hitters from the previous year.
That left Coto – a Miami native – as the unquestioned leader of a young team, a challenge he seems to be embracing.
“With this year I’ve kind of opened myself up to anything, and that has really helped build a bond with [the team] that I haven’t had since freshman year,” Coto said. “Seeing the fire in the seniors my freshman year really transcended me and that made me want to bring that back this year.”
This year, Coto has found himself teamed with two juniors, four sophomores and two freshman, barely enough players to fill a roster. So from the beginning of the year Coto has been one of the main guys the team has looked to for advice and leadership. Not a bad idea either, considering he has become one of the finest players in the program’s 20-year history.
At the start of the season Coto was 12th on the career kills list with 626 and second on the career blocks list with 376, a record he is on pace to break by the end of the year. In 2008 he was named the North East Collegiate Volleyball Association rookie of the year, and he also holds the single season blocks and assist blocks record at EMU.
Ten games into the season this year, he is again having great success, posting 46 blocks and 61 kills. Unlike previous years though, his team has followed his success and with young players like sophomore Chris Moise, the Royals are 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the NECVA.
EMU coach Steve Benson has watched Coto develop into the player he is now and thinks Coto’s influence can help promote similar growth in his young teammates.
“It’s tremendous the amount of growth in him,” Benson, who also coaches EMU’s women’s program in the fall, said. “Frankie and I have gone through a lot, and it’s given me a great chance to see that, and that’s what EMU does. He came in with a limited view of the world, but through the vehicle of volleyball that view has expanded.”
Next year, will be the first season that the NCAA is sanctioning men’s volleyball at the Division III level
In the past, D-III teams had a chance to compete for an independent championship at a tournament sponsored Molten. Starting with 2012 campaign, it will be competing for an NCAA title.
EMU is the only ODAC school with a men’s volleyball team and the Royals expect to be a part of new, volleyball-only conference in 2012.
“Playing well this year will hopefully bring in more prospective students,” Coto said. “It can help Coach get some more players for this team and hopefully make this program stronger. Not that this team isn’t strong, but there is strength in numbers.”
Numbers that this year’s squad simply do not have. In fact, several members on the team have even had to switch positions, like junior co-captain Nolan Prock who moved from his natural libero position to outside hitter this year.
That move added to the need for Coto to become more of a leader.
“Frankie brings a lot of emotional energy and is really good at pumping everybody up,” Prock said. “He also has played the same position his entire career here. So him being able to do his job every time he’s out there, because he’s used to it, adds a sense of stability to the entire team.”
It isn’t a role that Coto was used to, but much like his play, he has matured into the player and individual his team desperately needs. The desperation comes in large part because the last two years have been frustrating ones for Coto and his teammates. As Benson explained, the team has had to basically rebuild each of those years because of players leaving the program.
Stable is the last word you would use to describe the EMU volleyball team last year, but this year – behind Coto’s lead – the Royals are enjoying a measure of stability.
“I can see that growth,” Coto said. “For example, I remember Chris Moise saw me play in high school and he came up to me after the game and asked for some tips. I didn’t just want to give him tips on volleyball though. I told him you have to have desire and love for it, and I have seen that prosper in him.”