Cristian Popa’s face is familiar to many people on campus. Since 2001, he has been the face of ENC’s mailroom. If you do not see him running back and forth behind the desk of the mailroom, you might hear his voice forbidding his workers to check students’ mailboxes if they do not have their key to open it. Running has become synonymous with Popa in more ways than one. If it is 10 miles, 20 miles, or 30 miles, the Romanian runs every distance because it is his passion. If you see a 5’8 man in his late forties running around Quincy, it is probably Popa.
However, most significantly, Cristian Popa is the head coach of the men’s and women’s tennis teams. With some interruptions on the women’s side, it is his 16th year being in charge of the tennis program.
“I never saw myself being here for that long,” he explains, “but then, this crazy thing happens as a coach— you end up falling in love with every generation of new recruits.”
Popa loves to be part of the four-year journey that his students experience at Eastern Nazarene. Thus, seeing his student-athletes graduate and walk is what he enjoys the most about being the tennis head coach.
Popa experienced a tough time growing up in communist Romania. It was a very dark period of Romanian history, but he had a lot of support from his family. He came to the United States in the summer of 1996 because he met his wife, who graduated from ENC, at the American International School of Bucharest. They got married in Romania, his wife got a job at ENC, and Popa decided to attend ENC as well. Officially, he received his graduation diploma in 2003. Since then, he has been the head of the tennis program at Eastern Nazarene College.
Looking into the future, he utters, “Right now I am not planning on retiring any time soon, although retirement sounds pretty nice.”
Being a tennis coach in college is different than coaching other team sports because tennis focuses more on the individual. Nonetheless, Popa admits that it took him a while to understand that it is not about the individual player in college tennis.
He states, “You win or lose as a team. For me, it is [important] how the team clicks and how well the athletes work along with themselves and together and their chemistry.”
Nevertheless, Popa regards his coaching role as being the person that supports and helps his athletes grow, not only as athletes, but also as human beings.
“My students are here to get a college education, and my philosophy is to get them through the academics while they play and develop the sport that they love,” the Romanian reveals.
Popa is the third winningest coach in the history of Eastern Nazarene College, with more than 200 victories and counting. His goal for this year’s season in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference is to win the conference championship with the men’s team and reach the national tournament. Popa can achieve the first part of that goal this Saturday when the Lions play Ramapo in the GNAC Championship.