MHSTeCA COACH OF THE YEAR - 2005
(click on coach's name to read more about them)
DIVISION - COACH
DIVISION - COACH
1 - Jim Hanson, Novi
Greg Kopec, West Bloomfield - Division 1
Veteran coaches of both Detroit-area and state-wide tennis teams will remember the strong squads that annually came out of West Bloomfield in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Especially noteworthy was the 1978 contingent which included 1S state champion Mark Pinchoff and 2S state champion Eric Garber. Ed Nagel was Class A state champion in 1982, the year that the Lakers finished 4th in the state. Despite competing in a tough conference and regional tournaments that included Blooinfield Lahser, Brother Rice, Rochester Adams, Rochester, Birmingham Groves, and Birmingham Seaholm, the Lakers won 7 league titles, 5 regional championships, and qualified for state competition 11 times between 1973 and 1990. They finished third in the state in 1976. Leading the team during this era was the well-liked and much-respected Greg Kopec.
However, despite his squads’ many triumphs, Greg left tennis coaching at West Bloomfield when his wife went back to elementary teaching after years of being home with the family. It became his turn to pick up the kids after school and transport them to various activities. As it turns out, one of those activities was the Clarkston High School tennis program where Greg’s sons would play tennis for then-coach Dick Swartout and later for 2004 MHSTcCA coach of the year Kevin Ortwine.
As it turns out, for four years Swartout and Ortwine enjoyed the services of a highly experienced, highly successful volunteer assistant coach. Indeed, after sons Kevin and Mike graduated, they themselves followed in their competent father’s footsteps by coaching JV tennis in the area, Mike at Avondale and Kevin at Lake Orion. Greg, in turn, was persuaded to return to West Bloomfield during a tennis coaching transition at the school even though he declares that he had no intention of “going home again.”
But most certainly he picked up where he left off, as evidenced by the success of the 2005 squad which finished 6th at the state tournament. “Every player and every flight had some key wins for us,” said Greg in summarizing the season. “We did not rely on only a few flights in each match but found various different players coming through at various times.” Perhaps the most memorable moment of the season occurred in the regional finals when WB’s 4S was in the third set with Brother Rice and the championship was on the line. He was down 4-1 but came back to win the match, thus sealing the regional title. At the state tournament, 1S, 2S. 4S, 2D, and 4D all made it to the quarterfinals.
Greg, who teaches 8” grade science and coaches both the boys and girls 8th grade basketball teams, has been in the West Bloomtield school system for 33 1/2 years. He declines to compare today’s teams with those of a generation ago. Besides, vast experience sometimes muddies the memory. But it is evident that this is a coach who has put together outstanding teams in two separate eras at West Bloomfield and who exerted an influence in the 1990s that raised the level of play in the Clarkston program. By any and every measurement - including longevity he is a worthy coach of the year.
Mark Shenton, North Farmington - Division 2
“I attribute a great deal of my good fortune with tennis to my Downriver roots,” says Mark Shenton, who played at Trenton High School under Vince Preuthun from 1991-1994. According to Vince, Mark gave up a promising basketball career to concentrate on tennis where he won four league championships - one in doubles and three in singles - for the Trojans. During that time, Trenton teams captured the regional every year and throughout his four years there, Mark got to observe such stalwarts as Jim Stewart, John Shade, Tim Coleman, Jan Gottlin, Jon Garvie, and Jerry Escheck. Vince describes him as “extremely coachable.”
Thus, Mark brought a solid foundation to Western Michigan University where he played for two years. When athletic director Bernie Larson at nearby Battle Creek Pennfield saw his resume and hired the 20-year-old, Mark rewarded the school with a second place finish at the regional twice. Both years the Panthers were runners-up to Eric Gajar and his Ann Arbor Greenhills squad but he got to take his kids to the state tournament twice in the three years he 5 was there.Mark then moved back home to Trenton where he substitute taught and was working at the Franklin Racquet Club. When he heard about an opening at North Farmington, he took full advantage of the opportunity. In six seasons, he has presided over five consecutive regional championship teams and three league championships in the WLAA.
This year’s squad contained a core of kids who had been with Mark for four years. Although they got knocked around in the tough OAA Division 1, their solid experience stood up well at regional time where they qualified under the Murphy Rule with 19 points. This is a team which finished seventh in the conference because they play in a rough neighborhood: Bimiingham Groves, Birmingham Seahoim, Bloomfield Lahser, West Bloomfield, Bloomfield Hills Andover, Troy, and Stoney Creek . Thus a talented group which got beat up in the league during the season was amply prepared for the stale tournament where the Raiders finished 9th.
Under Mark’s leadership, North Farmington ’s girls team finished 3rd in the state last year, his third year of coaching the team. Although he stepped down as girls coach last May, he teaches physical education at North Farmington , teaches tennis throughout the year at the Franklin Racquet Club, and spends summers teaching at the Detroit Tennis and Squash Club.
Although his boys team graduated some outstanding senior leaders, a significant leader will be back: the 2005 Division II Coach of the Year.
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Gary Ellis, Allegan - Division 3
Regarding coach of the year selections, a philosophical difference occurs at virtually all of the MHSTeCA board meetings. Some board members feel that the most deserving coach from the list of regional coach of the year winners should be chosen regardless of past honors received. Others think that the award should be passed around a bit, especially if someone on the list has, say, been recently inducted into the Hall of Fame. After all, they think, an individual who has never been recognized statewide would appreciate it more.
It is fortunate for many coaches that often (but by no means always) the latter philosophy prevails. Otherwise, a good argument could be made that Gary Ellis would get the honor every three years, the limitation for the award that is placed by the MHSTeCA on those who are selected. As it turns out, Gary seems instead to get the award every ten years. He was boys coach of the year in 1984 and girls coach of the year in 1994.
And he certainly deserves the award in 2005. This is an individual whose service to his team, to his community, and to our organization has been both excellent and steadfast for 31 years. Twice he has stepped up to serve as his school’s athletic director. For many years, he has represented West Michigan on the state seeding committee, an arduous task that should have its own award attached to it. He has been president of the MHSTeCA. He is chairman of the Midwest Section Junior Tennis Committee. He co-directs a summer program comprised of over 200 participants. Until last year, he organized the results of the regional coach of the year balloting and conducted the selection process at semiannual board of directors meetings. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize why he never won coach of the year honors during this time period.
But lots of folks have inwardly said that he should have. After all, his teams are strong and well-behaved year after year. In over three decades of coaching, his kids have recorded 259 dual meet victories, 20 conference championships. 8 regional titles, and qualified to the state tournament 21 times where his best finish was third. In the process, he has hosted too many regional and invitational tournaments to count. This year’s squad was typical: st in the conference, 2nd in the regional, and 7th in the state.
In the process, it is an understatement to say that Gary conducts himself well. At his tournaments, rival coaches applaud the level of competition, the exhibitions of good will, the outstanding organization, and Gary’s legendary sense of humor, all of which go into making certain Saturdays and regionals a satisfying experience for both coaches and kids.Indeed, when describing Gary , coaches use phrases such as “legend of Allegan tennis,” “grass roots organizer,” “highest integrity,” “constantly looking to improve,” and “tireless worker.” We are pleased to add one more: “three-time coach of the year.”
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Eric Gajar, Ann Arbor Greenhills - Division 4
An excellent argument can be made that Erie Gajar’s state coach of the year award is long overdue, Under his leadership, the Gryphons finished 2nd at the final tournament in 2000, third in 2001, and then captured consecutive state championships in 2003 and 2004. But ironically, Eric becomes coach of the year in 2005 when his team finished 3rd in the state, a stellar achievement from the viewpoint of most schools but perhaps a disappointment for a team with such an impressive record.
But then Eric is used to the unexpected. “The year we won our first state title, we had just graduated 7 players after finishing 3rd in the year before,” he said. “We were ranked no higher than 7th all year and had a very losing record, and no tournament titles. In fact, we had lost the regional tournament for the first time since I started coaching. We were not on the radar screen but things all went our way (especially the second day of the tournament). Then in 2004, we had almost everybody back and were ranked #1 all year along. We got our regional title back and won back-to-back titles.”
Lowered expectations in 2005 may be what made the season so special. The team’s third place finish - wherein Eric coached seven new players, eight underclassmen in all - was certainly not a disappointment. The entire singles lineup had never played a singles match in high school. “I usually have a pretty good idea of who will make the team year in and year out,” he said, “but this year, it was really wide open. I had four freshmen and three boys from JV make the team. They really had no idea what to expect and I was hoping to make the state tournament and finish somewhere in the top ten. Tying the number one team in the state for the regional title was unexpected.”
Eric gives credit for the team’s success to a developing tradition wherein younger brothers who had seen siblings either get close or reach the top, provided incentive and inspiration for the next group. In addition, Eric started a JV program in 2000 from which boys were able to step up ready for varsity action. He also bulked up the schedule. “We had a dual match [this year] where we got shut out 8-0, and I was sure to let the boys know that we hadn’t had that happen in the previous five years,” he said. “That livened up practices for awhile,”The overall result: In 11 years, Eric has presented the school with 10 regional trophies and has coached a state champion every flight. His program fits in well with other remarkably successful programs from the Ann Arbor area. And it doesn’t hurt that he has something in common with hail of Famer Bob Wood and Coach of the Year Gary Ellis: all three are athletic directors. In addition, it won’t hurt that as Director of Enrollment Outreach at Greenhills, Eric can tell prospective students that the school’s tennis coach is MHSTeCA Coach of the Year.
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Jim Hanson, Novi - Division 1
Jim Hanson asserts that the 2005 Novi Girls Varsity Tennis Team was one of the best squads that he has coached during his 22 years at the school. “We had a veteran team with nine returning letter winners, good senior leadership, and quality players at each flight,” he says. He is also proud of the fact that the kids not only did well on the court but in the classroom where their average 3.76 GPA earned them MHSTeCA All-State Academic honors.
As is his custom. Jim challenged the team with a very competitive schedule and was delighted to see that the players improved as the season progressed. The Wildcats were 7-0 in the Kensington Valley Conference, a record which included a 7-1 win over state qualifier Brighton . They also won the conference tournament to clinch their 10th consecutive KVC championship (shared three times with Brighton ). Their overall record, 9-2-1, included notable wins over Northville and West Bloomfield while playing regional champion Farmington Hills Mercy to a 4-4 tie. The team’s only losses were to state champion Ann Arbor Pioneer and perennial power Ann Arbor Huron.
Perhaps the highlight of the season was a strong 7th place showing at the state tournament where Jim says “we played our best tennis of the year.” Jim’s 2D made it to the finals (a school first-ever accomplishment) and his 4S, a ninth grader, was a semifinalist.
Jim’s overall record with the varsity girls team is 209-54-9. His teams have won 15 conference championships, two regional chanipionships, and have made five state final appearances over the past two decades. The best Bulldogs’ best finish at the state tournament was fifth in 2003.
In addition, Jim has coached the boys varsity team at Novi High School for the past 11 years, an era in which his teams have won 8 conference championships, captured 2 regional championships, and made five state tournament appearances. Named MHSTeCA Boys Coach of the Year in 2002, he is especially proud of the fact that he joins area COY recipients Brian Martin of Brighton (2004), Judy Jagdfeld of Hartland (2001) and retired Hall of Fame coach Bruce Grotenhuis of Howell (2003) as recipients of MHSTeCA honors that reflect well on the quality of tennis coaching that comes out of their conference.
Jim started his tennis coaching career at Livonia Clarenceville where he coached the boys team for 14 years and the girls team for two. This means that he has spent 36 years on high school tennis courts. “Working with players who want to improve, to be a part of a team, and have fun playing tennis is priceless,” he says.
A good year? Yes. A great career to date? Undoubtedly. A girls coach of the year plaque should take its rightful place next to the boys honor he received three years ago.
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Bill Riggs, Allen Park - Division 2
“I’ve bounced between the middle school and high school [in Allen Park] for ten years,” said Bill Riggs. “The group that just came through I started working on as graders. I could look out of my class window and see the gym classes. I looked for the athletic girls and tried to convince them to try tennis. Some did. I am glad.”
“This is the best group of girls I have ever coached,” he continued. “They are the smartest and most focused group. They put in their time in the off-season and did the things necessary to make them champions. They were determined to be league champions. They did it. They wanted to go to the state finals. They did it (twice). They wanted to win a regional championship. They did it. They wanted to be known as the best team in school history. They did it.
Typically self effacing, Bill not only credits the kids for his success but also his entors. “Ed Froshieser was my coach (in high school) and we hit it off from the beginning,” he said. Froshieser, who eventually became a school board member, was the one who convinced Bill to take the Girls JV tennis job, thus in effect launching his public school teaching and coaching career. Ron Paseuzzi, Bill’s coach during his senior season, allowed him to work with the tennis team in the spring while Bill was finishing college. Between helping with the basketball team and the tennis team, he was hooked. Law school’s loss became Allen Park school system’s gain.
There were only 8 girls on Bill’s first JV team but that number quickly grew in ensuing years until Bill took over the varsity. That year, 60 girls signed up. Bill needed help and found it in the person of Hall of Famer Mike Hairabedian who had retired from Inkster Cherry Hill but welcomed the chance to stay in the game with limited responsibilities and pressure. Mike (a coach of 39 years who gave Bill his first point penalty when Bill competed in high school for Allen Park ) stayed with Bill for eight season and together they took a struggling program to one which captured the league championship five times. The Jaguars went to the state finals for the first time in 1998 and Bill consistently kept 60 girls in the program, fielding two JV squads. Bill also credits area coaches John Shade, Jan Gottlin, Tim Coleman, and Al Kaye as valued friends and colleagues. “I wanted to surround myself with the best coaches and put a plan together to compete and maintain a level of excellence,” he said. “Since Day 1, I have modeled my program after Grosse Ile’s.”All of the above are former coaches of the year. They may have influenced Bill but they, in turn, applaud the enthusiasm and effort that he brings to the program. The adjective they often used to describe him is passionate. There is little doubt that he deserves to join them as an equal.
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Jan Gottlin, Riverview - Division 3
“I model what I do after what she does,” says JR. Muniz, the former coach of the year from Riverview Gabriel Richard. “After every match she gathers her players around her for a debriefing. Everybody listens.”
Often enough, they hear abundant praise from a highly qualified, experienced coach, even though at times the outcomes have been disappointing. Although Jan Gottlin’s team won a Saturday tournament this past season, they finished third in the conference and third in the regional. But a recurring comment made about Riverview’s coach over the years is that “she is the same gracious person, win or lose.” And over 23 years of coaching, she has done plenty of winning.
That’s because even though she has scaled back her efforts a bit, Jan still does the extras. She hosts a kick-off camp at the beginning of each summer with area high school coaches Jerry Escheck, Al Kaye, and Barb Myler to get kids playing all summer, an effort which, in effect, provides a feeder system for the high school program. In addition, she co-hosts another kick-off camp with Allen Park Cabrini’s Al Kaye just before the August season begins, thus providing a jump start for the upcoming campaign. She is still on staff at the Fairlane Racquet Club. Teaching physical education and health at Riverview High School enables her to keep an eye open for talented athletes.
She also serves in the metaphorical sense: she ran both the conference and regional tournaments this past fall, has served on the state seeding committee for the past two years, and is on the MHSTeCA board of directors. In other words, Jan brings tons of knowledge and experience, together with two previous coach of the year awards (Girls, 1993 and Boys, 2001) to the job.
But even after two decades, there is always something new. This year, it involved her lS senior, Margo Souchock, who as a star softball pitcher, injured her throwing (and serving) shoulder to the point where she had to have surgery. Determined to retain the first singles position that she held during her junior season, Margo spent hours on the ball machine and took lots of private lessons at Fairlane in an effort to learn how to play left-handed. Sure enough, she kept her position, providing not only an inspiring example of determination for teammates but enabling those teammates to play below her, thus increasing their chances of winning.
“I lucked out,” said Jan of Margo and other squad members, four of whom are in the top seven of the school’s senior class academically. But colleagues know that the reason for Jan’s success is far from being a matter of luck. This is a lady who has led her teams to the state tournament 12 times, won three conference titles, and captured two regional championships (neighboring Grosse Ile has played a significant role in preventing the acquisition of more). Described by her peers as being “always very professional,” she adds a third coach of the year plaque to a very impressive resume.
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Joe Marazita, Niles Brandywine - Division 4
The small enrollments of Division 4 high schools make it difficult for tennis coaches in many districts to field 12-girl squads. When they do, 4D teams often consist of weak players with little or no experience. Herein lies one of several reasons why Joe Marazita’s program at Niles Brandywine is so impressive. This past fall, his No. 4 doubles team not only went undefeated but didn’t lose a set until the state tournament; furthermore, neither kid had ever picked up a racquet prior to his summer program. “It helps me teach the basics and allows for the really dedicated to improve their game at the varsity level in the fall,” he says of how he spends the warm weather months.
Apparently there was considerable dedication in Niles this past year Brandywine girls had won conference and regional titles, and qualified for state in the 2004 season but then graduated eight allconference seniors. However, this year’s contingent delightfully surprised their coach by going 13-0-1 and capturing two Saturday tournaments, the Albion Invitational and their own Bobcat Invitational. They then went on to win the conference crown and qualify for state (they missed taking home the regional trophy by one point). The Bobcat 1D team was named all-state and the entire squad will receive our association’s All Academic Team Tennis Award with a 3.32 GPA.
In truth, Joe should be getting used to this success. Over 10 years of coaching the girls at Brandywine, his kids have put together a 108-17-5 record, despite the fact that they practice and play at a public park four miles away and his van has to serve as the team equipment shed. He credits two of his daughters, one of whom is his assistant coach, with providing valuable assistance in the summer. After all, his girls played for Brandywine but Joe, who coached the boys for three years, didn’t take over the girls team until the previous coach had accepted a new job outside the district, He liked the girls program better than coaching boys because of the weather, the turnout, and the positive attitude of the kids.
Joe came to the job as a proven entity. He was a proficient player, having grown up in Buchanan with tennis courts across the street. He played lS for Buchanan for four years and then received a tennis scholarship at Northern Michigan University where he graduated in 1979. Furthermore, his last Brandywine boys team finished 7th in the state.
“He does a good job in an area that wouldn’t be good without him,” said one coach. This is a succinct definition of a coach of the year. To be sure, Joe belongs in this elite group.
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Ellette Nyman, Kinsford - Division 4
Ellette Nyman grew up in Iron Mountain where she played high school tennis for famed coach Phyllis Laurila, herself a MHSTeCA coach of the year (2000). She attended Phyllis’ tennis camps every summer but then left the area after graduation from high school in 1985 for Sun Valley, Idaho to work at the famed ski resort. As an avid ski racer (she was ranked in the top 25 in the nation at age 15), “I thought skiing was going to be my thing.”
As it turns out, she was wrong. When Ellette returned to the Iron Mountain/Kingsford area in 1994, she became involved once again in tennis. It started when she was asked to play doubles in the local adult league by Sue Tirschel, one of the best players to have played tennis in the UP and Ellette’s crosstown rival from their high school days. It was an opportunity not to be missed. Another came when Phyllis, who was still on the scene at the time but about to retire, asked Ellette to manage some of the local events, the adult league, and the sanctioned USTA tournament. At about the same time. Sue, who had been coaching the Kingsford girls team, was about to move out of the area. In other words, the stars were in alignment.
The rest is successful history. Under Ellette’s leadership over the past seven years, the Kingsford girls program has grown from 18 participants her first year to 48 this past season “My goal has been to have more girls on the field for introductions at “Meet the Flivvers Night” than the varsity football team,” she said. “This year we did.”
Appropriately, this year’s slogan on the backs of the team’s T shirts was “I’m the reason you have to practice harder.”
“Four years ago the seniors on this year’s team came out for tennis,” Ellette continued. “To say that these girls couldn’t play tennis is an understatement, but this group of young ladies turned out to be some pretty good tennis players. They went to every tennis camp offered, subbed in the adult league, and with much encouragement played in the local tournaments. Every one of those girls that stuck with it made varsity for at least two years, received post-season recognition from the UP tennis coaches, and went on to win the Team UP title this year.”
Ellette credits this growth and improvement to the community schools summer tennis program run by Kingsford High School’s boys coach, Mark Shanks, who is Ellette’s unpaid assistant coach. She also gets help from current doubles partner Sue Nelson and former KHS 1S player and coach Mark LeClaire.
But Ellette herself runs a tennis camp with Escanaba’s Denny Lueneburg, MHSTeCA Assistant Coach of the Year in 2002. She also co-ordinates the adult league and is tournament director for the USTA Sanctioned UP Jr. Open Tennis Tournament each July and has served as Mark’s assistant boys coach at the high school for the past four years.
In other words, Ellette builds high school tennis teams by utilizing the most tried and true method: get them to play throughout the summer. The results have been impressive; 63 wins against 20 losses, one conference title, and one UP state championship. “It’s a lot of hard work,” she says, “and I have a whole new appreciation for the coaches from my past and my fellow coaches.”
Although Ellette has received acknowledgement as UP Coach of the Year three times in the past, it’s time for her to widen her sphere of recognition to include a coach of the year award which represents not just the Upper Peninsula but the entire state.
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