When Andy Findlay first coached the Middle States Boys 18 National team 17 years ago, he wasn’t sure what it would evolve into. Nearly two decades later, he’s still learning, having fun, and building memories with each team he works with.
It seems to be a trend in Middle States, as he and Ann Koger, the Girls 18s National Team coach for the past 14 years, combine to make one of the most unique and dedicated coaching pairs to come out of a USTA section in years.
“Each year has a unique bunch of characters, and it continues to be an honor and a wonderful experience,” Findlay said. “It’s a privilege to lead these boys at a top national event. I’m just happy to be involved.”
In late July and early August, Koger and Findlay pulled out their clipboards once again, and were on court coaching at the 2013 National Team Championships. The USTA Boys and Girls National Team Championships feature top players from each section facing off against one another in a section-versus-section, team-based tournament.
The boys’ squad played this year in Urbana, Ill., finishing ninth overall, while the girls’ team competed in Claremont, Cali., finishing fifth. The fifth-place finish for the girls’ team was one of the best in recent years.
While many players focus on the standings at the end of each tournament, Findlay and Koger insist that the experience comes down to much more than wins and losses. Many of the players on each roster aspire to play college tennis, and traveling as a team is a step in that direction.
“That’s really my favorite part: working with some young women who aspire to go to college and play there,” said Koger, who has coached the past 31 seasons at Haverford College. “I feel like I can offer the players a new, fresh experience and teach them about some of the things that go on a college team. They’ve been playing mostly individually for their whole lives, so this experience can help them start realizing what college tennis is all about.”
“This shows players to stay together as a team, play for one another, and play for Middle States,” she added. “Everyone seems to really enjoy the experience.
Findlay echoed similar thoughts.
“This helps them in their upcoming college careers,” he said. “I feel like a transition coach. I’m teaching them team values, which will translate into their chosen college when they arrive.”
Each season, the coaches find new strengths of their respective teams, and that was no different this year. But with so little time to spend with each player, neither coach focuses on drill work or improving technical skills. Instead, the focus shifts to match planning, strategy, and ways to focus mentally and make in-match adjustments.
“Early on, I look at each player and determine what their strengths and weaknesses are, then look at their opponents and help them tactically and strategically pick their opponents apart, and plan for them,” Koger said. “That planning can equal a win. It’s an exciting thing for them, because many of them tell us that it’s a new facet in their tennis game that may have not been developed yet. As growing players, that’s a help.”
“A big thing to remember this year for the boys was the strength of our doubles play,” Findlay said. “We won the doubles point in every match we played, which is great. For this tournament, that’s big. In college, the doubles point can sway a match.”
Findlay and Koger each said they hope to coach as long as they can, and are already looking forward to working with next year’s team.
“It keeps me young,” Findlay said. “For that one week, I have to keep up with 17- and 18-year-olds in a changing world. I love doing it.”
Players who competed on the boys 18s team included David Wilczynski, Alex Fennell, Michael Buxbaum, Christian Lutschaunig, Caleb Troy, John Wu and Kyle Seelig.
Players from the girls team were Rachel Pierson, Taylor Ng, Callie Frey, Samantha Asch, Audrey Blakely, Yelizaveta Patenko and Christina Rosca.
For more info on USTA junior tennis, click here.
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