Next fall, William & Mary will have a new addition to its roster when Daniel Pellerito steps onto the school’s Williamsburg, Va. campus for his freshman season.
The high school senior is currently the eighth ranked player in New York, according to TennisRecruiting.net, and signed his letter of intent to play for the William & Mary Tribe earlier this fall, one of five outgoing seniors from the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA) who will be heading off to play Division I tennis next fall.
“William & Mary had everything I was looking for,” said Pellerito. “Head Coach Jeff Kader and I connected right away, and that bond only grew stronger throughout the recruiting process. I believe Coach Kader knows how to maximize my potential as a tennis player and how to lead a winning team. William & Mary is well-known for its superior education, and that was of great importance because the ‘student’ part of ‘student-athlete’ really matters to me. I’m really excited to represent the Tribe at William & Mary in the fall of 2018.”
Pellerito began playing tennis when he was five-years-old, joining some groups and taking private lessons at Sportime Syosset, whose facility is just down the road from where he grew up.
Jump ahead 12 years later, and Pellerito still trains at Sportime Syosset and is a fixture at the JMTA’s Long Island Annex. For the last five years, he has been a student of Mike Kossoff, whose rigorous training regimen has helped elevate Pellerito’s game.
“He’s very committed to becoming the best he can be and is an extremely hard-worker,” said Kossoff, who is the Tennis Director for Sportime Syosset and JMTA Long Island. “I can push him to the limit and he takes everything I throw at him. Daniel is in tremendous shape, playing four hours a day and does a great deal of off-the-court training.”
Pellerito added: “Coach Kossoff works me. I have seen great improvement, day to day, month to month, year to year. His teaching style is tough, but at 12-years-old, he had to take some of the weakness out of me. The intense mental and physical training at JMTA has definitely positioned me for success playing Division I tennis.”
At 5’7’’ and 134 pounds, Pellerito is small in stature, but possesses a big game, including a big serve that even impressed John McEnroe during a singles match they played earlier this year. Because of his size, he plays a physical type of tennis which requires him to be in top shape, something he and his coaches at Sportime have invested a lot of time into.
“He doesn’t have the physical attributes of someone who is 6’5’’, so he has to earn every point,” said Kossoff. “His physical and mental toughness has come a long way and it is becoming a strength in his game. He doesn’t lose focus nor is he negative. He will be very tough in college because of that.”
His progress as a tennis player was halted a couple of years ago when a back injury sidelined him, his first real confrontation with adversity as an athlete. He had never faced a layoff like that before and was forced to be off the court for months, unable to play. The first doctor he saw said he may never be able to ever play tennis again.
But being the tennis junkie that he is, Pellerito still vowed to work on his game despite the injury. Although he couldn’t play, he would go down to Sportime and analyze some of his past matches, while also watching his peers play, and analyze what they were doing.
“I would watch my friends and competitors on the court, analyze what they were doing, and think of patterns that would work for me, while also giving them feedback,” said Pellerito. “The most important thing was staying positive and focusing on coming back stronger.”
He would indeed come back stronger. With a tougher mental game and his physical strength returning, Pellerito captured the title at a USTA Sectional Tournament in Schenectady, N.Y. only about two months after coming back from the injury.
“He couldn’t be away from tennis,” added Kossoff. “He would come to the club and chart points of other players, and talk about what players should have done on the court. Mentally, he was still playing the game. The injury made him hungry.”
That hunger has helped catapult Pellerito’s game in the two years since the injury, and he is now preparing himself for the next stage of his tennis career. Currently 36th in USTA National Rankings, he wants to climb inside the top 20 before his time as a junior player runs out.
Pellerito is also considering playing for the Syosset Boy’s Tennis Team this spring, a team that has won 52 straight matches. In his senior season, Pellerito wants to be a part of that team atmosphere, which will only help to prepare him for William & Mary in the fall of 2018.
“The team aspect is not something I am used to,” said Pellerito. “If I played for the school team, I would put my all into it.”
Regardless of what he does this spring, the dedication and work ethic that has helped Pellerito get to where he is now will play a big factor in his tenure as a collegiate tennis player. He has simple goals: Get an education from a top institution, while playing four years of college tennis.
“Freshman year in college is challenging for everyone, especially for the student-athlete juggling school and sports, but many years of excellent training at JMTA have me ready to go out and win,” Pellerito said. “I’m going to be playing more college-style tennis leading up to it, and academics wise, I am taking challenging classes in school, trying to mimic what I am going to be doing throughout college.”
William & Mary is getting a good one in Pellerito, who will hope to lead his team to its first Colonial Athletic Association conference title since 2015.
Kossoff, a former Division I player himself, had some advice as well as expectations for his pupil:
“I want him to go out there and enjoy the experience,” Kossoff said. “I want him to be a leader in college. There is nothing like being a student-athlete. I want him to go out there and do as well as he can, and not worry about where he is playing. Wherever the coach puts you, just go out and compete.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.