Senior spotlight: Francesca Fusinato's final ride

BLACKSBURG – Sunday afternoon’s matchup against Florida State marks the final time Francesca Fusinato (Feltre Belluno, Italy) will walk on the court at the Burrows-Burleson Tennis Center with classmate Sansitha Nandakumar (Coimbatore, India). It will be both a joyous and somber day for the Hokie duo and their teammates as they bring an end to their successful collegiate careers that included two NCAA tournament berths and an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) quarterfinal appearance.

Fusinato will exit as one of the most talented and motivated student-athletes of coach Terry Ann Zawacki-Woods long 14-year tenure at Virginia Tech, making her presence known on both the regional and national circuit.

After all, she was just a sophomore when Tech experienced its best season since joining the ACC in 2005. The Hokies notched an NCAA tournament victory for the first time since 1988, defeating Long Beach State, 4-2, in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Championships held in Los Angeles. Fusinato headlined the Hokie roster throughout the season and was the first player since Inga Beermann in 2006 to earn a bid to the 2015 NCAA Women’s Tennis Singles Championships. Tech eventually finished its 2015 campaign ranked No. 30 in the nation, marking the highest ranking in school history.

In 2016, Fusinato accomplished the unexpected and took down the nation’s No. 1-ranked player in straight sets, upsetting Clemson’s Joana Eidukonyte by a score of 7-5, 6-2 in Blacksburg. Her victory also marked the first win ever by a Tech player over a top-ranked opponent in the program’s history.

In the fall, she was selected to play in the main singles draw at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Women’s All-American Championships, also becoming the first women’s tennis player in program history to compete in the main event.

She currently holds a 14-7 dual-match singles record and has topped a total of seven ranked opponents this season. She also helped Tech knock off Clemson for the first time in 16 years, as the squad defeated the Tigers, 4-2, at the ITA’s Annual Kickoff Weekend event.

Are you starting to realize that the common theme with Fusinato’s involvement in the women’s tennis program are ‘firsts?’ She might have experienced many firsts throughout her four-year career, but coach Zawacki-Woods can’t just put her finger on one particular moment that makes the three-time All-ACC honoree standout.

“With Fusi, the major accomplishment is that she has just gotten better and better,” Zawacki-Woods said. “Of course, we can always put a number on it, but she has done so many things as a person. She has always represented us so well. She has carried herself great. She has a fantastic GPA, and she works so hard in the classroom. She has had such an impact on her teammates – personality wise – and has made a difference for them on the court.

“She also has impacted me as a coach. I’ve learned so much from her. Again, not just tennis, but from a health standpoint and eating better. It’s hard to say it has been just one thing, but she has done so many things on so many different levels, which has been great for Virginia Tech tennis.”

Off the court, Fusinato was named to the All-ACC Academic Team and the ACC Academic Honor Roll three years in a row (2014-16). She also was recognized as an ITA Scholar Athlete in 2016. Fusinato will finish with a bachelor’s in human nutrition, food and exercise. After graduation, she plans to work for a nonprofit organization called TEDS.

“It stands for think, eat, do and serve,” Fusinato said. “I’m going to explain how to do these things in life. Meanwhile, I’m still going to practice and continue to play tennis, so maybe at the end of the summer, I will be able to play professional tennis for a couple months.”

Whether it’s tennis or teaching individuals how to live a healthier lifestyle, Fusinato will continue to be the best version of herself. And she has Virginia Tech and the people she has met along the way to thank for that.

“Four years ago, I had no idea what was going to happen – what I was going to find,” Fusinato said. “I’ve never been to the United States before. Honestly, it was more than I ever could dream about. I’m very happy with the choice I made.”

That choice was to become a student-athlete, and that role definitely helped shape the person she is today.

“I think when we talk about a student-athlete, there are a lot of factors that come into play – performance, communication, leadership, hard schedule and just a lot of other things going on in our lives,” Fusinato said. “When you take all these factors and put it together after four years, the way that you deal with all these things is going to determine the person that you are.

“When I first came, I was little overwhelmed by all of these things. I had to sit down and think ‘ok, what are my core values?’ I had to follow my beliefs and let that determine how I wanted to lead and communicate. It definitely helped shape who I am today.”

Four years ago, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. Now, she can’t imagine a life without it. So when she walks off the Burrows-Burleson Tennis Court on Sunday, let’s just remember the bright-eyed freshman who walked on campus and changed the Virginia Tech women’s tennis program forever. Because after all, her ride-out song of choice is brown-eye girl by Van Morrison.

So sing it with us … “so hard to find my way. Now, that I’m all on my own. Do you remember when we used to sing sha la la la la la la dee dah, my brown-eyed girl.”

We hope you remember, Fusinato.

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