Only a few years ago, Kathi Rees couldn’t imagine herself as a tennis coach. Let alone, a state championship-winning tennis coach.
A lot has changed in the last two years.
Rees, from Collegeville, Pa., led her Harriton High School girls team to the PIAA Class AAA state title in the fall with a win over rival Conestoga. Don’t look for Rees to take much credit, though. At every opportunity, she shines the spotlight on her players.
“The talent was there and I knew it was there from the start,” said Rees, who was in her first year as the team’s head coach. “With the talent we had on this team, I felt like more of a facilitator than the coach.”
Rees chooses not to take credit, but it’s clear she deserves it.
Rees took over as the team’s coach after Dave Broida retired following the 2017 season. Rees had just finished her first season coaching the junior varsity team, and jumped at the opportunity when Harriton Athletic Director Tom Ferguson offered her the job.
Even with all the talent, Rees set out to make changes for the 2018 campaign. The Harriton roster was loaded with USTA Tournament standouts and players attracting college attention, and many of those players had private lessons, clinics and private matches of their own that could interfere with team practices.
That wouldn’t fly with Rees.
As one of her first rules for the team, Rees required that all players stay for the full length of each match, cheering on their teammates and building a better team atmosphere. So even if one player was finished quickly and was finished playing, that player stayed through all seven matches.
“It seems like a simple thing, and so obvious in other sports,” Rees said. “But in tennis, the atmosphere isn’t always like that. Sometimes your top singles player is off the court in 20 minutes.”
What seemed like a simple rule went a long way.
The team-based feeling took over. The players dropped personal agendas and showed up for preseason practices. They rescheduled personal lessons and matches to be able to attend the weekday practices and stay the full length (which can take hours) of every match.
The team bought in to a team-first mentality, and it paid off. In Harriton’s run through the PIAA playoffs, no singles player or doubles team lost a set.
“The girls were so committed,” Rees said. “Losing a year before in states, I think they realized that something needed to be done to put them over the top. They molded into a true team, and that went a long way.”