MHSTeCA COACH OF THE YEAR - 2011
(click on coach's name to read more about them)
DIVISION - COACH
DIVISION - COACH
|1 - Paul Bentley, Hudsonville||1 - Andrew Shipp, Troy Athens|
|2 - WMatt Boven, Mattawan||2 - Whitney Wasielewski, North Farmington|
|3 - Margaret Ruemenapp, Petoskey|
|4 - Erin Fouty, G.R. NorthPointe Christian||4 - Nathan Immekus, Almont|
Paul Bentley, Hudsonville - Division 1
A “I feel I am uniquely qualified to speak about Paul’s accomplishments with his team,” says highly regarded teaching pro Jorge Capestany. “I have been a friend of Paul’s for several years as it was the Bentley family that gave me my start in tennis.” Indeed, Jorge played high school tennis years ago for Hall of Famer Rahn Bentley and spoke at Rahn’s induction at the 1999 banquet.
Jorge also knows Paul well in that his daughter Carli played four years at his high school alma mater under Coach Bentley. “What Paul has done with the Hudsonville program is incredible,” he concludes. “Only a few years ago, the Hudsonville team had never won a single match in their conference.” When Paul took over the program eight years ago, the team had never won an OK Red Conference match.
That has certainly changed. Four years ago, (when Carli and eight others were freshmen), the team finished second in both the conference and regional tournaments. The Eagles went on from there to capture three conference titles and three regional championships in the ensuing years. They finished fourth in Division 2 in 2009, sixth in Division 1 in 2010, and again sixth in 2011. At present, the Eagles have a 26-match winning streak in the conference which ranks in the top ten of all-time state records. Paul’s overall coaching record is 90-48-4.
Paul’s success can also be counted in terms of the number of players in his program. “Our participation records have grown 185% since I’ve taken over the program,” he says. “I coached the JVs for three years before becoming the varsity coach and we had 24 kids in the whole program at the time. This year we had 69 girls play varsity or JV tennis. I also coached the boys JV tennis program since 1999 and our numbers have continued to increase each year despite [Hudsonville] being a football community.”
In 2007, the community started Middle School Tennis. Paul was the leader in charge, having written letters for five years and conducting long conversations with board members and athletic directors. He also started Hudsonville’s summer program in 2000, a program which now has over 170 K-12 students under his umbrella for the summer weeks. “With Hudsonville being a farming community and a football heavy district, it has been a huge accomplishment to get that many kids playing the wonderful game of tennis,” he says. “We are set to get new courts (with lights) at our high school,” he adds, marveling at the steady increase in support.
This means that Paul will further strengthen Hudsonville tennis by hosting Saturday and regional tournaments. In the meantime, he has improved his kids’ experiences by traveling, this past year to Ann Arbor Pioneer, for instance. “I knew the long trip would pay dividends for my girls in the long run,” he says. But there is also little doubt that host Tom Pullen knew that Paul would be bringing a strong squad to provide his team with good competition.
Before getting a teaching job at Hudsonville, Paul coached boys and girls varsity tennis for three years at his alma mater, Grand Rapids Union, an inner-city school. He succeeded in doubling the size of his teams and becoming very competitive. “I even had one of my players make it to the state tournament,” he says. “We always finished in the top six of the regionals, and never finished at the bottom.”
All of this is not surprising, given the family genes which provide coaching connections which are, in Paul’s words, “kind of neat, but a little overwhelming.” He is the nephew of two Hall of Famers, the aforementioned Rahn and Uncle Jerry, who coached at Grand Rapids Creston. “I coached at G.R. Union against Jerry,” he says. “One of my boys teams actually ended Uncle Jerry’s long G.R. public school tennis winning streak.”
Paul, who teaches math at Hudsonville High School, presides over a classroom next door to cousin Anne Bentley, who coached for two years at East Grand Rapids where she won two girls state championships. Cousin Dan Bentley coaches at Forest Hills Central. Uncle Mark Bentley is a retired coach for Wyoming Park. Uncle Wayne Bentley retired from tennis coaching at Grand Rapids Union and Grand Rapids Central. Robert Bentley (RJ) used to coach at Wyoming Rogers. The same applies to Dave Bentley Sr. In turn, Paul played for Union High School at 2S behind his twin brother Pat who now coaches JV tennis at Forest Hills Central. Kind of overwhelming indeed.
To be sure, Paul has help and support. His JV coach is Matt Tanis, son of Hall of Famer Wayne (Class of 1991). Paul, in turn, is Matt’s assistant in the fall. And there is Marti Capestany, wife of Jorge and mother of Carli, who has assisted for the past four years.
But make no mistake about it, the man can coach. Everywhere he has gone, he has done the things that make a tennis team successful. “Who would have thought a rural town like Hudsonville with grass growing in the cracks on the tennis courts could rise above the odds to establish all the school records in regards to tennis these last four year?” says Marti.
Indeed, Paul exemplifies the concept of “grassroots coach.” he also typifies our definition of Coach of the Year.
Matt Boven, Mattawan - Division 2
Matt Boven grew up in tennis-rich Kalamazoo where, not surprisingly, there was a neighborhood court “which allowed me to practice on a daily basis. It was a neighborhood full of tennis players, so I was able to practice a lot before getting to high school,” he says. As a result, he played singles in high school for Mattawan, so successfully that he was named all-conference first team all four years. He went on to Kalamazoo Valley Community College on a tennis scholarship, justifying the school’s faith in him by reaching the junior college nationals both years. For his efforts, he received the Dale B. Lake award which is the highest honor an athlete can receive at the school.
Matt was so close to Darrell Davies “at the Valley” that he helped him coach the KVCC team for two years. While still at the school, he began coaching the Mattawan High School girls team, a position he still holds (13 seasons). As he was graduating with a master’s degree from Western Michigan University, he received an opportunity to coach the Kalamazoo Hackett boys team. “We ended up winning two conference championships (first time in a decade) and captured the state title in 2005,” he says.
Soon after the Hackett success, Matt was given the opportunity to coach women’s varsity at Kalamazoo College. His first year there, the team won the MIAA conference championship for the first time in 15 years. “I was able to coach both Mattawan and the K College girls because the seasons were different for high school girls tennis (used to be in the fall),” he says.
Indeed, things always seem to work out in terms of timing. Matt left the K College job to take a teaching pro position at Minges Creek and then at the Maple Street YMCA. Finally, he ended up with a teaching job at his alma mater.
What the high school got on an ongoing basis was a very experienced and increasingly successful – and very busy -- tennis coach. “This past season was one of the most memorable for me because it was the busiest time of my life,” he says. “During the season, I was completing an accelerated master’s program while coaching the Wildcats. Also, I had my responsibilities in the classroom (he has taught English there for the past four years) and was junior class advisor which meant that I responsible for organizing the senior prom.”
Despite the pressure of nonathletic distractions, Matt and his team did well. “We exceeded expectations this past season for sure,” he says. “Even though we’ve been fortunate to win the SMAC championship seven out of eight previous seasons, we were underdogs because Portage Northern acquired two Division 1 players which made their singles lineup unbeatable. However we were able to dominate in doubles and do well enough in singles to have the best team that day (conference tournament).” This is a squad which went 7-2-1, won two invitationals, finished second in the regional (Portage Northern returned the favor by beating Mattawan in a couple of matches), and ended up 9th in the state.
However, Mattawan graduates seven seniors. “We’ll work very hard during the off season so we can compete well next year,” says Matt. His version of working hard during the off season is a bit unique. “Mattawan built a pole barn adjacent to the school about 12 years ago to give teams opportunities to practice during the winter,” he says. “Surprisingly, the pole barn has a decent tennis court. It has been instrumental to our success because we’re able to hit during the off season on a consistent basis.”
The kids (four at a time) can hit with a coach who is both a good tennis player and who has experienced much success. After all, there is a tradition. Mattawan’s top finish was third in the state back in 2002 when Matt coached with Tim Galli. They compete in a large, competitive conference of 15 teams that includes Portage Central, Battle Creek Lakeview, St. Joseph, and Kalamazoo Loy Norrix.
“As I view it, the conference tournament is a much stronger tournament than the regional tourney the following week,” says Portage Central’s Peter Militzer. “Essentially we play our conference dual matches as a qualifier for the Gold tourney. As I like to say, even in the years when the club pros don’t hand me the best teams, we have still managed to always qualify for the Gold tourney for both boys and girls.
“Well, Matt and Mattawan have taken that to another level. They don’t just qualify; they dominate the event year after year. In our conference tournament, you are extremely lucky if you play one ‘easy’ match. All eight teams are very competitive, whereas at regionals you don’t usually find that same level of depth among all the teams.”
“Matt is typically low-key when you coach against him,” adds Peter. “But I’ve known him a long time. His teams haven’t changed; they are always good. He’s extremely funny. I hear that his team banquets are hilarious.”
At the next one, he can bring along – with his sense of humor – a state coach of the year plaque.
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Margaret Ruemenapp, Petoskey - Division 3
TSome high school coaches stick around long enough to coach children of former players. Some even coach their own kids. But on this year’s successful Petoskey squad, Margaret Ruemenapp coached two granddaughters, Margaret and Gabby Jensen.
This is not surprising for those who have followed tennis in the Northern Michigan area. Margaret’s daughters – Elizabeth, Jennifer, and Tina – played for Hall of Famer Karen Langs, having been first taught by their mom in her North Country Jr. Development Program. They all had successful high school and USTA careers, holding rankings year after year. All three of her daughters played Junior Wightman Cup and Beth played Junior Federation Cup. Beth and Tina received MHSTeCA all state designations at one point in their careers and Jennifer the same for all four of her high school years. Son Andy was part of a Petoskey state championship team, then went on to play for the Hope College team which beat Kalamazoo College, the first loss for that school in 41 years.
This success can be directly attributed to their mom. Margaret has been involved in tennis there for the past four decades as a player, coach, USPTA professional, and Director of Tennis for three indoor clubs. “My mother and father met at their tennis club in England (Margaret was born in Uddingston, Scotland) and they were decent players,” she says. “My aunt was a retired county champion. I’m sure it was in my genes.”
Margaret attended elementary school in England and Canada, completed 7th and 8th grade in Detroit, attended Detroit Osborn for one half year, Grosse Pointe High School through 11th grade, and finally ended up in Williamston, New York and Vassar College. She became director of tennis at the Village Racquet Club in Warren, Michigan from 1974-1980 but then headed to the Traverse City area where she was head tennis professional at the Grand Traverse Hilton (now, the Grand Traverse Resort). Although her day job was at the resort, she coached the Traverse City Central girls team to its first conference title in the Mona Shores Conference in 1980.
In 1992, Margaret started the first girls team at Harbor Springs (She was named MHSTeCA Class C-D Coach of the Year that very first year) and continued there for 11 seasons. She coached their boys squad for three seasons. The girls team won several regional championships and once attained a ranking of 6th in the state. Four of her kids were all state.
But when the legendary Langs retired in 2003, she assured everyone that her Petoskey program would be in good hands. That, as it turns out, was an understatement. In Margaret’s eight seasons as the varsity coach, the team placed in the top ten a number of times including this past season. Every year, her players were all academic and some were all state.
In the midst of this, Margaret has received numerous accolades outside of high school service. She was named Lake Michigan Conference All Sports Conference Champions Coach in 2002-2003, was given the Glenn Casey Award for Petoskey Parks and Recreation, the Beyond the Scoreboard award as Youth Sports Leader in 2005 and the Athena Award in 2003. Six of her seven children (four plus three stepchildren) played high school tennis. Not surprising, the Ruemenapps were named NMTA Family of the Year in 2008.
“I have run tournaments for 40 years,” she says. Her North Country Junior Classic was been hosted for many years and in 2008, was elevated to a Midwest Level 5.
But her last season was very special. “I had the privilege of coaching my granddaughter and namesake Margaret Jenson for four years,” she says, “and this past year her sister Gabrielle played for me also. Rounding out the top of my team were two young ladies, Erin Clutter and Kali Phillips, who have been with me since they were three.”
Alas, she is retiring -- well-deserved, of course. Margaret leaves behind a playing career of 41 years (highest ranking in SEMTA was 11th) and a teaching career of 40 years. She taught tennis for the Petoskey Parks and Recreation for 13 years. She taught the summer program at Wequetonsing for 5 years. She gave 10 years of service to the Northern Michigan Tennis Association as Junior Development Officer, then as president.
She also leaves an amazing legacy. Margaret founded the Michigan Women’s Tennis Organization to ensure that tennis athletes were given equal rights and privileges with regard to tournaments. She coached and then administered the Junior Wightman Cup and the Junior Davis Cup for the district. She oversaw the evolution of the yearbook from a newsletter to a 62-page annual publication. She developed and administered the Area Training Center for the district-ranked junior players in Northern Michigan. She helped fundraise for the Community Courts in Harbor Springs and then the Petoskey Community Courts. She taught the Community Education Tennis Program in Harbor Springs which then evolved into the North Country Junior Development Summer Program for that community.
All in all, Margaret has been the “face of Northern Michigan Tennis,” says Traverse City Central’s Larry Nykerk. Indeed, given her accomplishments, a second MHSTeCA coach of the year award seems rather paltry. In terms of this recipient, it is more our honor, not hers, to bask in the reflected glory of what she has achieved.
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Erin Fouty, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian - Division 4
In 2007, Erin Fouty was named Boys Coach of theYear, the last season that the boys played in the spring. The previous year, they captured the state championship. Since then, her boys have qualified for the state finals twice: in the fall of 2007 when they placed 8th and in 2009 when they ended up 11th.
Not to be outdone, her girls have gone 35-14 in the past four seasons, won three regional championships, and finished in the top five at the state finals (2008 – 2nd place, 2009 – 2nd place, and 2010 – 5th place. Her kids capped all of this with a state championship this past spring.
“It’s a great feeling to finish high in the standings at state finals, but four years in a row in the top five, including a state championship, is an amazing feat for a small school like ours,” she says. “The story for me would be the four girls that played four years of varsity tennis and shattered many of our school tennis records. Even graduating six after three of the four years, the core of players has really been the backbone of a great run.”
One of that core was daughter Amy, the youngest of her three kids. One time Erin mentioned to her son David (who was on her 2006 state championship team), that “Amy doesn’t seem to need or want coaching from me during a match. He said to me, ‘Mom, she’s grown up around the courts. She’s grown up around you coaching. She’s watched people do it well and do it awful. She’s the smartest tennis player on your team.’”
“She was a team captain and a good one,” concludes Erin. “She was enthusiastic and encouraging to her teammates. She made them work harder.”
But make no mistake about it, the above success required a considerable amount of player development as well. “We had six girls on this championship team that never played tennis before high school,” Erin says. “I do like to work with beginners and have had good success with helping them to move from just learning how to hit the ball to winning strategy. I like to think that a strength of mine is helping kids to believe they can do things they haven’t done.”
An unusual aspect of this philosophy – at least for some coaches – is how Erin handled this year’s fourth doubles flight. “I had two seniors on the team that played fourth doubles this season,” she explains. “I was criticized for keeping them on the team when there were a couple of freshmen that might have been better tennis players and the varsity experience might have been helpful to next year’s team. But these two seniors had played three years of JV tennis and were always faithful and going the extra mile. Their record might not have impressed you, but to see them work every day was what mattered to me.
“ No one was happier than me when they won their first-ever flight championship in their very last varsity tournament the last Saturday of the season. And they got to the regional final. And then they had a key win at the state finals. And my whole team was genuinely excited to see these two girls succeed.
“People can say I am blowing hot air if they want, but to me that was the best measure of success as a coach, not the state championship. And so when others want to give up on kids that might not be your ‘typical’ tennis player or athlete, I knew I had done the right thing to stick with these two girls who gave all they got every day.”
Erin celebrated her success this past summer by fulfilling every tennis coach’s dream. “Wimbledon was all I ever hoped and way more,” she says. “Even standing in the queue was a blast. Made new friends. Enjoyed reading the British papers. Ate breakfast with strangers. We saw all of our favorite players. The weather was amazing. The Brits are so polite and easy going. I think I could live there.” (The photo on this page is of Erin on the fabled Henman Hill, the grassy area where spectators unable to get tickets for Centre Court that day, can watch matches via giant-screen TV).
Fortunately for her team and the high school tennis coaching community, she returned from England, but didn’t stop. She and her son completed a 925-mile bike trip around Lake Michigan, starting and ending in Chicago “during the absolute hottest days of the summer.” But then it was back to tennis where she still drives the team bus, both literally and figuratively. “Still haven’t hit a curb,” she says. “The kids joke with me about how other drivers always hit curbs.”
She also continues to serve on the board of directors and the state seeding committee, the latter an arduous task that requires considerable preparation and a highly developed degree of fairness. Committee members describe her efforts as “extremely thorough” and “efficient.” “She does her research and checks around the state,” says Tiger Teusink, who has been on the committee since its inception.
This is a lady who has won two state championships, one for boys and one for girls. She now owns two state coach of the year awards, one for each gender. But MHSTeCA board members will deny that there is a cause and effect relationship. Simply stated, she is both a very good coach and a very good role model.
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Andrew Shipp, Troy Athens - Division 1
As a junior player in Indianapolis, Andrew Shipp was heavily involved in the area’s camps and tournaments, playing in the Western Closed and other tournaments. At one of the camps, Bobby Riggs came for a day. “Although I was only twelve or thirteen at the time, I was still very aware of who Bobby Riggs was,” he says.
After Bobby was done with his speech, they then picked four kids to go out and play one game against him, one-on-one. “I was actually lucky enough to be picked,” says Andrew. “Needless to say, he beat me, but there was one shot I’ll always remember. He was up 40-15 in the game, and he came to the net on that point, but I ripped a backhand passing shot right down the line, passing him. He yelled out, ‘Watch out for this guy!’”
Prophetic words, indeed. As it turns out, Andrew emerged as a slow-growth but steady performer. Consider that he was on the varsity squad at Lawrence North high School all four years, progressing from three singles, to one doubles, to two singles, to one singles. He then went on to the University of Dayton where he did the same thing. His first year, he ended up one spot from making the team but the coach let him come to practice as a hitting partner and was allowed to go through the workouts. As a sophomore, he made the team, playing six singles. He went from there to five singles, four singles, and two doubles. In his final year, he was 24-11.
In the midst of this, he started coaching, first working with young kids when he was 16 but quickly moving up to work with upper level juniors. He had a boss who gave out weekly evaluations and suggestions, an excellent early education. Midway through college, his parents moved to the Detroit area where he worked at the Kendallwood Swim and Tennis Club in the summer.
During his senior year, he was offered the opportunity to teach in Saipan, a small island in the Pacific near Guam. “Since it was something different and it gave me the opportunity to travel, I decided to take the job,” he says. “But while teaching World History and Theology to the students at Mt. Carmel High School (in Saipan), I realized that they did not have a tennis team.”
Thanks to the help of a tennis pro on staff at a local hotel who ran some junior programming, Andrew established the first tennis team on the island. “To make the team a reality in our school, we had to fundraise to pay for our court time at the hotel and to pay for our uniforms and tennis balls,” he says. “We had to combine the boys and the girls and the middle school and the high school students to make a team. I then organized with three other schools on the island and created the first tennis league out of our four school systems. It was truly a grass-roots effort, but it was well worth it to watch the players line up in match format and see the pride on their faces as they played for their schools.”
You would think that this would be sufficient training to take over a high school tennis team, even in the talent-rich, highly competitive Oakland Activities Association White Division but Andrew managed to get even more experience when he returned to the states. He became the girls varsity coach at Bloomfield Hills Andover, coached the JV team for Mark Shenton’s North Farmington squad, and eventually was the assistant to Hall of Famer Warren Block when he was hired to teach Social Studies at Troy Athens. Andrew spent four years as the girls JV coach and five years with the JV boys there. He was more than prepared when he took over the varsity girls in 2004 and the boys in 2006.
He would need to be. If you are in the OAA White Division, you compete with Bloomfield Lahser, Rochester High School, Clarkston, Lake Orion, Avondale, and Farmington. That is a tough neighborhood.
Overall, Andrew’s dual meet record is 39-30-6, similar to his win-loss record as a high school and college player. But from experience, Warren will tell you that it is more a testament to the quality of competition that Troy Athens faces every year. But in spite of the challenge, under Andrew’s direction Athens has captured four conference championships, qualified for state competition four times, and placed as high as 9th in the final tournament.
“I have known Andrew for six years now,” says Lake Orion’s Eric Bracciano. “We have coached against each other for four of those six years. Andrew has always been one of the most organized, disciplined, honest, fair, motivated, and fun coaches that I have met in the 20+ years I have been involved in tennis.”
“We finished second in the division and missed first place by one point,” says Andrew with regard to this past season. His Redhawks finished third in the regional behind Brother Rice and Troy High School but 1S sophomore Richard Zhang qualified for the state tournament where he won a couple of matches. “We are very excited for next year as Richard comes back as a junior,” says Andrew. “In addition to Richard coming back, our entire singles line-up is returning and some of our doubles are coming back. We had a great year this year but we are very excited for next year.”
In other words, OAA coaches should heed the prophetic words of Bobby Riggs.
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Whiteny Wasielewski, North Farmington - Division 2
Some vintage tennis coaches can remember a time when the tennis coach was recruited in the faculty lounge as the athletic director came in to announce: “I need a tennis coach. Any volunteers?” Or the tennis job was given to the football coach as a source of a little extra pay for tossing out tennis balls. Or the athletic director took it himself, too often presiding over practices from his car.
Those days are, for the most part, gone. Consider Whitney Wasielewski. As Whitney Crosby, she played No. 1 singles for four years at Livonia Stevenson, attaining all-state status the last two seasons. She went on to the University of Toledo on a full scholarship where she played as high as No 1 singles and No. 1 doubles. She was team MVP her senior year and received the MAC Sportsmanship Award.
Whitney subbed for four years in West Bloomfield and Farmington before teaching elementary physical education and health in West Bloomfield for two. She then taught middle school and high school physical education at Southfield Christian for two years. She kept involved in our sport by coaching JV boys and girls tennis at Walled Lake Northern.
Then she coached the boys JV tennis team at North Farmington before the seasons switched. “When Mark Shenton stopped coaching the boys three years ago, he recommended me for the position,” she says. “I got the girls job at North seven years ago when I was recommended by families, players, and coaches. They contacted me and I accepted.”
In other words, Whitney took over the North Farmington boys varsity job eminently experienced and qualified. The results are indicative. Her boys have won two conference championships and two regional titles. This fall, the team’s three losses (against 10 wins) were against strong teams: Novi, Troy, and Rochester Adams. The team placed third in the strong Oakland Activities Association Red Division behind Troy and Bloomfield Hills Andover. They finished second in the regional behind Andover and 6th in the state, her highest finish as a varsity coach. Her boys and girls have qualified for state competition 10 times.
Highlights of the season include winning the state championship at 4D, a testament to team depth and good coaching. In addition, “We beat Andover in the dual season by coming back to win 3 out of 4 matches remaining in which we were down the third set in all four of them,” she says. “We held off several match points and fought back to win the match.
Alas, Whitney had to hand the regional trophy to Andover who defeated North by only one point. And often enough through the years, she has personally handed hardware to other competitors as well. That’s because she has run all but two of the conference tournaments and six regional tournaments. MHSTeCA board members praise her ability to organize and coordinate
“She does an excellent job,” says Rochester’s Jerry Murphy. “Her tournament scoreboards are to be admired. Most importantly, you can tell that she cares about the players on her team, not only as athletes, but as maturing young adults.
Whitney now spends her days as a tennis pro at Sports Club of Novi. Her summers are at Western Golf and Country Club in Redford where she is the director of tennis, the assistant pool manager, and the swim coach. “My dad was an All-American swimmer at Eastern Michigan, so my brothers and I swam in the summer for him,” she says. “But In high school, swimming was the same season as tennis.”
Whitney also coached volleyball at Walled Lake Northern, Farmington Hills Harrison, and West Bloomfield. She played the sport in high school and AAU, making it as high as the nationals in the U14. She still plays volleyball two times a week with former college players. She also played softball in high school.
Indeed, the North Farmington players have an experienced, accomplished athlete for a coach, not someone recruited randomly from the faculty lounge. “Whitney is the one of the coaches who really cares about her kids (student/athletes),” says Walled Lake Northern’s Steve Kirschbaum. “She has the ability to be strict yet really caring at the same time. This award couldn’t have gone to a more deserving candidate.”
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Rich Menzel, Trenton - Division 3
Rich Menzel’s father played tennis for MSU in the mid-1950s. That was how his son got involved in tennis. He played four years at Trenton High School, three under Hall of Famer Tony Malinowski, and in his senior year, for Vince Preuthun who had stepped up to the head job after Tony retired.
“He wasn’t the most talented player on the team but he knew how the game was supposed to be played,” says Vince. “We know of others like that. Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland were minor league talents who were not strong major league players, but they knew the game and knew how to get others to play at their best and be successful.”
“I had a Theory of Coaching class in college (WMU),” says Rich Menzel, “and I had to do a coaching experience.” So he went to Vince and his assistant Jim Stewart and asked if he could help.
He must have done well. The two recommended him for the JV job at Woodhaven High School where he coached for three years. “As my JV girls coach, he made it fun, made sure everyone played in the matches and still they almost always won,” says varsity coach Tim Coleman. “I knew that players moving up from the JV team would have a great base of knowledge and quickly adjust to the varsity.”
Then a JV position opened up back at his alma mater. Rich became an assistant to Stewart for eight years. When Jim left to become assistant principal at Woodhaven (now principal at Grosse Ile), Rich was ready. “Eight years and counting,” he says of his tenure there.
They have been good ones. In that time span, Rich’s kids have been Downriver League champions six times (they are the only Division 3 school in the conference), won two regionals, and qualified for state competition six times. His overall dual meet record is 81-8-6. Even if you count ties as losses, his teams have won 85 percent of their matches. Eliminate the ties and the percentage goes up to 91.
This past season was particularly noteworthy. Although a perfect season might be defined as winning a state championship, Rich’s kids did everything but. They were undefeated in dual meets (9-0), won the conference title, and won the regional championship. They finished in a tie for 14th at the state tournament. “The players are what make the coaching easy,” he says. “If they listen, learn, and adapt, they can become successful. Our players worked hard all season. Their No. 1 goal was to reach the state tournament once again.”
In a throwback to the days before 12-month-a-year tennis players, Rich has developed good teams an old fashioned way: recruit good athletes from other sports to play. In this case, it is from the hockey team. “Hockey players have great hand-eye coordination,” he explains. “This translates well to tennis. They are great athletes and they learn quick.”
“I just wish I could get these hockey players out for tennis in the freshman year,” he continues. “These kids tell me every year that they wish they could have played tennis all four years.” Nevertheless, Rich gets kids who are used to winning: the Trenton hockey team is ranked in the top five of the state every year and have won 12 state championships in 18 final appearances.
“He spends a ton of time working with the players,” says Tim. “He will even make suggestions for my players, even though we compete with his boys team as our #1 rivals.”
Trenton hosts the Honor and Glory tournament every year, a tradition that goes well back before Saturday tournaments became the norm for high school tennis schedules. “It is the longest running tournament in the state (65th year), other than the state tournament,” Rich says. This year’s squad placed second to state Division IV champion Ann Arbor Greenhills.
In other words, Trenton can play with the big boys. “Rich’s teams are always well prepared and fundamentally sound,” says Allen Park’s Bill Riggs, himself a former coach of the year. “When you play Trenton, you know you are in for a battle. It is a credit to his knowledge of the sport. He works very hard to get his players to play the game right.”
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Nathan Immekus, Almont - Division 4
Nathan Immekus started playing tennis during the summer of his 4th grade year when he took lessons in the program run by the legendary Dean Sousanis, Hall of Fame Class of 1996. By the time he played for Dean in high school, he was good enough to be state runner-up at first doubles his sophomore year, and state runner-up at three singles as a junior. The tennis team he played for as a sophomore finished third in the state. The team finished second Nathan’s senior year.
Nathan went on to play a few matches for Grand Valley State University but “I decided to focus on the rigors of a mathematics major and a physics minor,” he says. Nevertheless, he stayed connected to high school tennis. He assisted Mike Wilson at Caledonia during the boys season when he was student teaching there. He then went to work teaching math and physics at St. Clair High School and helped Dave Clutts (2009 MHSTeCA Coach of the Year) with both the boys and girls in 2004-2005 as an assistant.
“After my second year of teaching, I was looking to make a move to somewhere closer to home nearer to where my wife grew up,” he says. “Dean was looking to retire from teaching within a year or two.”
Nathan was hired within days. Over the next five years, “Dean taught me his self-written physics curriculum and slowly transferred the boys team from his to mine. Most of what I know about tennis and the teaching of physics I can attribute to Dean,” he says.
He has learned well. This past season, the Raiders won two tournaments and finished second in three others. Their only dual meet loss was to Grosse Pointe University Liggett. The team went on to capture the Blue Water Conference tournament and the regional before finishing 9th at the state championships.
In four years of coaching the boys, Nathan’s kids have won two Blue Water Area conference championships and qualified for state competition three times. His overall record is 23-6-4.
“Nathan strikes me as an exceptionally smart, knowledgeable coach who has the ability to take his vast understanding of the game and break it down so his players understand it very well,” says Portland’s Jim Niebling. “He is very well-liked and respected by his players, and other coaches alike. Plus, there is no amount of work that is too much for him to devote to his program, almost to the point of exhaustion. When you put it all together, you get the complete package.”
“When you take over from someone like Dean Sousanis who has developed the school’s tennis program into one of the best in Division IV in the state, it is a tough task to live up to but Nathan has made the boy’s tennis program his own,” says Dave Fredette, former coach of rival Armada. “He runs a middle school program and a summer program, and makes sure his boys tennis team competes against all the top Division IV teams along with other top teams in other divisions. Almont does not back down against anyone.”
“I have known Nathan since he was in middle school,” continues Dave. “As good a coach as he is, he is an even better person.”
Although a relatively recent addition to the MHSTeCA Board of Directors, Nathan has impressed veterans with perspective and articulate comments. “He gives us hope that the future is in good hands,” says Ed Waits who has served since the early 1980s. “There was a time when we weren’t so sure.”
“Almont is known for football, but under Nathan’s coaching, it is still known and respected for tennis,” says Dave.
“If he was coaching in a place where they had more abundant tennis-related resources, I bet we would be watching him win state title after state title,” says Jim. “As it stands now, he does an incredible job in spite of that. Almont is lucky to have him.”
So are we.
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