For some new coaches, inheriting a team that finished with a handful of wins the season prior can be summed up in a perfect storm of emotions.
Enter Chris Rawski, who just took over at Oak Harbor, but isn't just "some new coaches."
The former longtime Genoa assistant softball coach (eight years, two Suburban Lakes League championships, one Division III state final four in 2006), and assistant basketball coach (six years, two SLL championships) honed his craft under the tutelage of local coaches Tom Kontak (Genoa softball, basketball), Art Eli (Genoa basketball), and Sylvania Southview's Jim Zoltowski (Lady Cougar softball, '11, Division I regional runners-up) for the past 10 years.
Rawski and Kontak didn't have their contracts renewed by Genoa following the 2009-10 SLL runner-up season, despite notching a 91-44 record with the Lady Comet roundballers from 2004-10.
Rawski's also shown he has patience even in the face of adversity. Both of he and wife Alisa's kids, Morgan, age 5, and Wyatt, 3, suffer from Mitochondrial Disease.
Meanwhile, under Rawski, Oak Harbor softball is currently 3-10 overall and steadily climbing up the Sandusky Bay Conference ladder.
"I had had my eyes set on a head varsity coaching position for a while, but it needed to be the right situation," offers Coach Raws.
Rawski explains that the so-called "right situation" presented itself to him late last summer. Former Genoa athletics star and friend Andy Szypka called him one night and informed him of the vacancy in the OHHS girls’ softball program, which had previously been occupied by Ashlee Donahoo.
"So, from there I contacted (athletic director) Drew Grahl, and e-mailed him a resume. Then I went through the interview process, and they offered me the position in August. I was beyond excited. When the opportunity at OHHS popped up, it was an easy decision to try and pursue it.
"Right now, we are 3-10, having lost to Elmwood twice (5-4, 11-1), Lake (5-3), Toledo Notre Dame (7-4, a game in which the Rockets led but couldn't hold on), Maumee (3-0), Woodmore (6-3), Bellevue (5-0), Lakota (3-1), Port Clinton (3-2, a heartbreaker which came courtesy of a walk-off double by the rival Redskins), and Edison (10-0)," he continues.
The Rockets, who return only two seniors and seven juniors, have been collectively outscored, 58-18. In the SBC, they have to deal with red-hot Edison, which is at 13-1 and 3-0 in the league.
"But as you can see, (other than the drubbings at the hands of Edison, Bellevue, and Elmwood) all of our scores have been close, and we just have to get over the hump," Rawski said.
"The story with us is confidence, and finishing those little plays that add up in big games," scouts Raws.
"This team does have talent," he adds, "but they also need to believe that they belong out there with each team they are facing. In order to finish those tight games, we have to finish those tough plays down the stretch, and we can't take a single play off. Despite our record, this team continues to move in the right direction. They work very hard in practice, and have not wavered in their commitment. I firmly believe that when this team breaks through and gains some confidence, they are very capable of getting on a roll."
Rawski believes such a turnaround may just have to start with junior pitching ace Sam Durivage, who he says is quietly developing into a solid, young arm with nice command and the poise and maturity to keep her team in hotly-contested games.
She recently picked up her first three wins of the season in 4-3, 2-0, and 13-3 decisions over SBC rivals Margaretta and Huron and non-league foe Hopewell-Louden, which notches OHHS at 2-2 in SBC play. In the tilt against the Polar Bears, Durivage went a long way in helping her own cause by helping Oak Harbor nail down its first win of the year, blasting a big home run.
"This year Coach Rawski has worked us very hard, which is a change from past years,” Durivage said. “A lot of our problems in previous years has been messing up the easy, little plays and then not worrying about practicing them. But this year, we've focused on the basics such as bucket flies and footwork. That way it's natural to the players. Coach has definitely helped our team tremendously."
Rawski does profess excitement for the heating-up bats of junior slugger/outfielder Haley Smith, who has been a welcome, new addition to the Oak Harbor varsity squad this year, and freshman infielder/outfielder Allison Wolf, the varsity’s lone freshman.
They are among the Rocket's offensive leaders, with batting averages of .364 and .308 respectively. Joining them has been a trifecta of OHHS players in senior infielder Allison Dunn, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, versatile sophomore pitcher/infielder/outfielder Theresa Stokes, and junior infielder Rebecca Florio. The former two also have home runs, and latter have been Oak Harbor's answer at the top of the order for getting on base.
Defensively, Rawski likes the hot glove work of junior outfielder Sydney Street, who provided the Rockets with a bit of highlight-reel footage in a season where it's otherwise been a little bit harder to come by, when she pulled in a fly ball, and then threw a runner out at home, in a tight tilt against Elmwood early in the campaign. Elsewhere in that same game, Dunn smashed a homer, while junior catcher/outfielder Maggie Tyburski found a hole on a crucial two-out, two-run double, to keep Oak Harbor neck-and-neck with the Royals.
Rawski’s pal Szypka, who serves as Oak Harbor's pitching coach, has been instrumental in the ongoing development of Durivage. Assistants Lauren Scheanwald and Kelly Traver, both of whom come from Genoa athletic pedigrees, like Rawski, are products of Coach Kontak's and Coach Zoltowski's systems. Jeff Holcomb (head JV coach) and Kylie Biggert (asst. JV), are also trying to lay that foundation for success.
"Chris understands that wins and losses are a by-product of all the work done by the coaches and players. Any program with sustainability over time, must have a sound foundation of good people who have character. Chris understands this is all part of the process. In time, the wins will come," Kontak said.
Kontak is hoping to take over the reins of the OHHS Lady Rockets' basketball program upon Board of Education approval at the April 24 meeting, which would fittingly put the two back together in the same color uniform once again.
"I would say the most difficult part of making a move (to Sylvania Southview) last season was, and still is, not being able to coach with my friend Tom Kontak," reflects Rawski. "The things we accomplished together in both softball and basketball, they'll never be duplicated. The experience was extremely rewarding. I wouldn't be where I'm at today without Coach Kontak and his guidance. He is probably one of the best coaching role models a young coach can have.
"I talk with Tom every day, and am constantly asking him for advice," shares Raws. "He has given me the tools to move forward. I learned how important it is to be organized, to develop relationships, and to surround yourself with great people. One of the main reasons I wanted to be a part of athletics at OHHS was AD Drew Grahl, who is second to none. I knew from his background that he was supportive of coaches, and that he would be able to guide me in my first season. This type of dedication and support is a quality that is hard to find. These areas have been the building blocks that I have started to build the program with.
"Oak Harbor has always had great athletes," he concludes. "I hope we can develop these athletes into successful softball players, and build a consistent top-notch SBC program."