From player to coach, an impressive resume for an impressive woman

VCU assistant tennis coach Stefana Andrei and Graduate student Paola Exposito Diaz-Delgado talk during a practice on Feb. 24. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Olivia Dileo, Contributing Writer

When assistant coach Stefana Andrei came to the VCU women’s tennis program, players and coaches had no idea how valuable of an asset she would turn out to be. 

With player experience in her pocket, her coaching advice would prove to be valuable.

Andrei is originally from Târgu Jiu, Romania where her journey went from professional tennis player to collegiate athlete and now a full time assistant coach at VCU.

This is Andrei’s first year as assistant coach and third year with the VCU program as a coach and graduate assistant. Over this period of time, she has become an influential member in the team’s recruiting and player development. Andrei stated she uses her own experience when coaching the team.

“One way I can help the girls by coaching is kind of relating my experiences as a player to them because we have that in common,” Andrei stated. “A lot of times especially during the matches I coach them by thinking about how I felt in those situations or what would I have liked my coach to say.”

Andrei played professionally for two years before attempting a collegiate career in the United States at the University of Louisiana Monroe. At ULM, Andrei collected many accolades and accomplishments like winning Sunbelt Newcomer of the Year and going undefeated during the 2018 season, according to VCU Athletics.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, required her to sit out her first year and gave her only two years of eligibility due to her short professional experience. 

“These varying experiences have made her a coach that truly understands players from a variety of backgrounds and playing situations. Andrei has found a passion in coaching and specifically collegiate tennis coaching,” stated VCU Athletics.

Andrei coached at ULM for a year as assistant coach under Terrence De Jongh. In 2019, Andrei made the switch to VCU as a graduate assistant under then-head coach Paul Kostin. Eventually, Andrei became the full time assistant coach with head coach Vivian Segnini for the 2021-2022 season. 

“It was very interesting, at first it was very difficult, it’s tough at first when you start coaching because maybe you don’t have as much confidence,” Andrei stated.

Andrei had the opportunity to work under three separate head coaches at VCU and she said has learned a great deal from each of them, including Paul Kostin.

“He [Kostin] was so successful, he is the second coach with the most wins in all of college tennis, so he definitely knew how to recruit good players,” current head coach Vivian Segnini stated.

Kostin coached for nearly thirty years at VCU and was director of tennis. The former coach is second on the NCAA’s all-time wins list and led VCU men’s tennis to 19 conference titles and 22 NCAA tournament appearances. He is one of only four coaches in NCAA history to obtain 1,000 wins, according to VCU Athletics.

Andrei stated she was able to learn from Kostin and understand his coaching style, as well as his unique stance of caring for and developing specific techniques for players as individuals. Andrei stated she likes this approach and uses it in her everyday coaching.

“For me it was a great honor to work with him, I was so very lucky to have this experience, I didn’t expect him to be such a nice person and so down to earth,” Andrei stated. “I had a lot of things to learn from him and I think what made him so successful is the fact that he cares so much about everyone around him.”  

Andrei stated her lessons from Kostin have proven to be valuable in her coaching career. 

“The one thing that I learned from him, he always had this phrase, ‘you are who you are,’ I think that is really important for coaches to realize every player is unique and yes you can work hard to improve their strengths and weaknesses,” Andrei stated.

Andrei stated she believes she has an opportunity to help develop the college game, with experience as an international coach and working with mostly international players. She ultimately aspires to be a coach that her players have total confidence in during matches and off the court.

“It’s a big honor, especially because of the success VCU Tennis has had. It’s also a little bit of pressure because we kind of have to live up to Paul’s [Kostin] legacy, so hopefully Vivian [Segnini] and I can carry on the success he had,” Andrei stated.

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