Miss Tennis Serving Now as 'Hero Coach'

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

July 17, 2020

PORTAGE — One high school match continues to stick out for Kathleen Hawkins. She played it not as a senior, but as a sophomore, and not to win one of her three MHSAA Finals championships for Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central, but just to get a chance to claim the first.  

Seeded fifth at No. 1 singles at the 2008 Lower Peninsula Division 4 tournament, Hawkins won her semifinal over top seed Rachel Denny, from Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart, 7-6 (2), 0-6, 7-6 (4).

Hawkins then won the title, defeating second seed Adrienne DiVito, of Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 6-1.6-0.

“(The semi) felt like a final,” Hawkins said recently, a big smile on her face as she remembered. “It

was crazy. It was a great match. Both teams were cheering super loud.

“It was intense but so much fun. Then Rachel Denny and I became teammates at Western (Michigan University), which is the funny part.”

Hawkins said she will never forget the excitement.

“I think that was the most anticipated match of the weekend,” she said. “It was awesome.

“I haven’t played very many matches where there was so much going on and so many people cheering. It was great.”

Two years later, and now a decade ago, Hawkins graduated from Hackett with two more championships and the Michigan Miss Tennis title.

These days, Hawkins is back where her tennis career started: the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, where she teaches aspiring young players hoping to follow in her footsteps.

She began lessons at age 9, working with Maurice Palmer for nine years at the Maple Street Y, before she headed off to college.

Three years ago, she returned to the Y as the junior tennis coordinator at the Portage branch, working with youth ages 3 to 18.

Returning as a coach was a no-brainer for the personable Hawkins.

“Kat went through the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo tennis program as a youth player, excelling herself to the top collegiate level,” said Erik Anderson, Association Tennis Director. “She is a direct representation of achievement and success for youth tennis players.”

He added that Hawkins has developed into an elite adult player that people look up and want to learn from.

“There is a spot for everyone at any age and any level of tennis in our programs, and Kat finds the right spot for our youth to get in the sport, enjoy the sport, and excel at the sport,” he said.

One of those students is Ellie Skwiat, a rising junior on Hackett Catholic Prep’s tennis team. (The school changed its name in 2014.)

“She’s amazing,” Skwiat said of Hawkins. “She’s my hero coach, and I’ve only been hitting with her for a year.

“She helps me stay consistent and focus on the game more mentally instead of physically.”

Hawkins said she has incorporated the lessons she learned from Palmer while working with today’s young athletes.

“He was much more than just a tennis coach for me,” she said. “He was somebody I could go to, somebody I could talk to about anything.

“He was somebody who pushed me to be the very best, not just on the tennis court, but off the court, too. I think that’s super important.”

She said she hopes to instill those same values in her students.

“Confidence in every aspect of their lives,” she said. “I’m not just a tennis coach, I’m a life coach.”

Although 10 years have passed since her high school years, she remembers it all and keeps in touch with those teammates.

“I’m one of those types of people that really remember fierce competition,” she said. “I remember states every year. It was an exciting time of my life, probably the peak of my tennis career.”

After claiming that first championship at No. 1 singles in 2008, Hawkins went on to win Finals titles at No. 2 singles in 2009 and again at No. 1 singles in 2010.

Earning the Michigan Miss Tennis Award was the perfect end to her high school career.

“That was something I always wanted, something I always strove for,” she said. “I used to read the paper when I was younger and see ‘Mr. Basketball,’ ‘Mr. Baseball’ and rarely saw ‘Miss’ except ‘Miss Volleyball.’

“I don’t think I found out I got that award until July 8, my birthday. It was the best birthday present I think I ever received. It still holds a place in my heart.”

Making the transition from high school to college was an eye-opener, she said.

“When I was in high school, I was kinda starting to hit the peak of my game at the end of my career,” she said. “I didn’t even know there was so much further I could go.

“I had no clue, but I was willing to do the work. I was willing to trust my coaches and have complete faith in my coaches. That’s why it worked so well for me.”

While at WMU, Hawkins had an Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranking of 55, making her the first Bronco to break into the top 60.

After graduating with a degree in recreation and minor in business, Hawkins left tennis for a job in marketing with Wyndham Vacation Rentals in Colorado, but returned to Michigan in 2016.

The current pandemic put a stop to her coaching for three months, but not her interaction with the community.

“As a department in Portage, under the whole Y umbrella, the tennis department and the aquatics department teamed up to help deliver meals to low-income communities,” Hawkins said. 

“It was nice to do in the midst of all this happening to think about other people. It felt good to do; it felt right.”

As for the future: “I haven’t thought that far,” she said. “Honestly, I just had a child so my ultimate goal is to be a great mom and to catch up on my sleep. 

“I’m looking forward to continuing here at the Y.”

Hawkins married Evan Olsen, her high school sweetheart, and they have an 11-month-old son, Hendrix.

As far as her son playing tennis, “I hope so,” she said.

“I’m not a pushy parent. I’m happy he’s healthy; that’s all I can ask for.”

Made in Michigan 2020

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June 24: Fracassa's Remarkable Records Still Rule - Read
June 16: Muskegon Grad Casts "Magic" in HBO Series - Read

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kathleen Hawkins, second from left, employs social distancing while teaching students recently at the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo. (2) Hawkins, playing for Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central, earned the Miss Tennis Award as a senior. (3) Hawkins continues as an elite adult player while also teaching the next generation. (4) Hawkins, left, and Kalamazoo Hackett Prep student Ellie Skwiat. (Hawkins' high school photo courtesy of Kathleen Hawkins; all others by Pam Shebest.)

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1