The Press Newspaper
Oak Harbor Lady Rockets' bench-boss Tom Kontak is Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Coach of the Year, garnering over half of the votes in his first year back on the job.
True, the skeptics will argue because OH finished fourth in the final Sandusky Bay Conference standings behind Perkins (third at 14-8 overall, 9-4 SBC), backyard rival and runner-up Port Clinton (21-4, 12-2) and repeat champion and Division II state qualifier Clyde (27-0, 14-0).
Sure, after edging Perkins 39-38 in a thriller of a sectional semifinal at Sandusky, Coach TK and his Lady Rockets were bounced from the tournament by No. 13-ranked PC, 42-35.
But, sometimes in the world of sports, one has to look beyond tangibles like deep tournament runs, league championships, and rankings, It takes a little more.
“I think it's all about having patience for this job. It's about having a sense of humor to go along with it,” offers OH assistant coach Mark Boukissen.
Boukissen has known and gone into battle with and against Kontak for a little over 15 years, dating back to when their boys were squaring off against each other in little league and Colt baseball.
“The qualities of a coach of the year include being cool under pressure and having a good working relationship with the media. It's about being a good communicator, and speaking truthfully to the players — even when the truth hurts. It's about being an innovator and being aware that what worked last week, may not work again this week,” Boukissen said.
“But I think what inspires me most about Tom is how much passion he has for the game of basketball, his fellow coaches, and his players,” adds Boukissen. ‘It's a great thing to be a part of his program, and truthfully, the people of Oak Harbor have not seen anything yet. We plan on taking this program to the next level.
Longtime confidant, and fellow OH coach Chris Rawski chimes in, “The whole coaching staff has done a great job implementing a style and a mentality that has allowed these players to have success.”
Rawski is about to enter his sophomore season as the Rockets' softball skipper and he’s been gleaning coaching knowledge from Kontak for approaching two decades. Heading Genoa’s programs, the two churned out mesmerizing basketball and softball players like Simone Eli, Shana Szypka, and Brittany Darling.
“They came in with high expectations and the mentality that no matter who they are playing, a high level of competitiveness needs to be a part of what a Lady Rocket basketball player shows on the floor," Rawski says. "This allowed them to overcome some hurdles as the season progressed, like the sectional semifinal win over Perkins. It was a hurdle the players hadn't been able to complete all the way back to junior high, so it was quite an exciting moment for the players, the coaches, and fans.”
Ten area coaches and 10 local media members from print, radio, and television selected Kontak as COY. Kontak got every vote, except six were split between Woodmore skipper Kyle Clair and Waite skipper Manny May, with Clair finishing second.
Perhaps the most-telling endorsements for Kontak's COY candidacy can be heard from his players, like 5-foot-9 senior post player Abbie Gezo, who is first team All-Press and received Player of the Year votes.
Gezo says even off the court, Kontak plays a role "encouraging us to do stuff together — stuff like team feeds, and going out to eat together and going to watch (the future of the OHHS program) in the seventh and eighth grade tournament as a team.”
Senior Makayla Carpenter, a third team All-Press selection, echoes, “Coach Kontak and his coaching staff were just very passionate this year, and encouraged us to leave everything out on the court, and to play hard for each other, not just for ourselves,”
“He really wanted this season to be special for us four seniors (including fellow guards Maria Boers and Erin Bryant)," Carpenter adds, "and sometimes I think he wanted it for us even more than we wanted it. He just encouraged us to prove people wrong every day and to show them what we've got.”
Still not convinced?
In their first, full season as the architects behind the previously-floundering Lady Rockets' basketball program, Coach TK, Boukissen and assistants Art Eli and Johnny Kontak took the reins of a team that had grown somewhat accustomed to being an SBC also-ran. In 2011-12, the Rockets finished a disappointing 7-14 overall, and near the bottom in conference play at 3-11. They built it into an up-and-comer this year by leading Gezo, Carpenter, Boers, Bryant, and company to double the wins at 16-8 overall, and 7-6 in the league.
They were predicted to finish no better than sixth in pre-season coaches' polls after losing first team All-SBC and first team all-district performer Allison Dunn to graduation.
Kontak had to play the same core five players for a marathon 95 percent of the minutes this year (Gezo, Carpenter, Boers, junior defensive lockdown specialist Amanda Hetrick, and freshman guard/post player Andrea Cecil) due to injuries to key players Bryant and junior post player Nikki Weis. Plus, there was a lack of varsity experience on the bench.
Of the Rockets' core five, nary a one finished at the top of the SBC's end-of-season leader boards in scoring and rebounds. Gezo lead the team averaging 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 22 steals and 25 blocks while Cecil (11.3 pts., 5.9 reb., 29 asst., 29 steals) while Boers (12.4 pts., 2.1 reb., 54 3-point goals, 50 steals), and Carpenter (8.3 pts., 2.5 reb., 94 assists, 34 steals) rounded out the team’s leaders.
This team still managed to outwork many opponents, including the one-point heart stopper over Perkins in the sectional semis; a 33-point drubbing of a good Edison team in game two of the season; an energizing come-from-behind victory over Margaretta on the road; and in getting Coach TK his 100th career win against Huron.