Longtime Detroit-area girls tennis coach Judy Hehs has been named one of 23 National Coaches of the Year for 2019-20 by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NHFS) Coaches Association.
Hehs was selected first at the state level and then from among the eight sections that make up the NFHS – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. She previously had been named national Coach of the Year for girls tennis for 2014-15.
The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Hehs’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.
Judy Hehs coached girls tennis at Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart from Fall 1996 through Spring 2019 and served as co-coach of six MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship teams over her last eight seasons with the program. She was slated to coach the girls team at Wixom St. Catherine in Spring 2020, but that season was canceled due to COVID-19. She also coached Sacred Heart’s varsity girls basketball team from 1988-95 and two sports at Detroit Country Day – field hockey in fall 1987 and then junior varsity boys tennis (while also serving as the varsity assistant) from spring 1988-2000. Hehs was inducted in 2015 into the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame and her girls tennis teams have a record of 169-80-18. She is principal at Wixom St. Catherine and in her 34th year as an educator.
“Let me share my ‘why do I coach’ philosophy: Do I coach to ‘give back?’ Do I coach to ‘make a difference?’ Do I coach for ‘selfish reasons?’ Do I coach because I ‘love it?’ I coach for all those reasons and more. The tennis court is my classroom now; it’s the place where I can teach tennis and valuable life lessons. The challenge isn’t in making great tennis players. It is about building great people. And building great people doesn’t mean we’re looking at wins and losses. Don’t get me wrong, winning is great and fun and helps to build a great team and program. But there is no better place than a tennis court to teach real life lessons – lessons about work ethic, teamwork, problem solving, independence, and the moment when effort turns into belief and belief turns into accomplishment. Athletics is a vehicle to becoming a better version of one’s self. I believe that participating in athletics can change lives, and not just the lives of the athletes whom we coach, but also the person whom we become through coaching. I had coaches in a variety of sports from elementary school through college who inspired me and motivated me to become a better version of myself. Every time I step on that tennis court, I hope to be that person in the lives of my players who inspires and motivates, and helps them become better versions of themselves. That’s why I coach.”
Four more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Dean Blackledge was honored in boys cross country after leading Hanover-Horton to its second Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship in three seasons in 2019. Kent Graves was the honoree for girls golf after leading Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern to its third-straight LP Division 2 championship that fall. Livionia Stevenson’s David Mitchell was honored in ice hockey; Stevenson most recently won the Division 2 championship in 2012 and finished runner-up in 2015 and 2016. Dexter’s Michael McHugh was honored in boys swimming & diving; although the 2019-20 Lower Peninsula boys season didn’t conclude because of COVID-19, his teams have won four straight Division 2 championships.
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.
ISHPEMING — There was both a single reason and a singles reason why Iron Mountain won the championship at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Girls Tennis Finals played at Westwood High School on Thursday.
The difference is subtle — just a single letter “s” — but rings true both ways.
It was easy to see what the Mountaineers’ secret was — sweep the titles at every singles flight while adding one more in doubles just to be on the safe side.
IM finished with 19 points, while Ishpeming outdueled West Iron County in several late finals to eke out second place by one point, 14 to 13.
Gwinn posted five points to take fourth, while Munising had four, Norway one and Ironwood did not score.
Mountaineers coach Marcus Celello credited senior leadership for the team’s repeat championship.
“We have eight seniors on our team, including all four of our regular singles players and both our No. 1 doubles players, along with one each on Nos. 3 and 4 doubles,” the IM coach said.
He noted that all those singles flights were winners with the team’s championship in doubles also coming with the pair of seniors at No. 1.
“We won this last year and returned our core, so I knew we would at least be very competitive this year,” Celello said. “We won or tied every dual meet this season.”
He said that included a 4-4 tie against eventual U.P. Division 1 champion Negaunee to give the Miners the only blemish on their dual-meet record this fall.
“But sometimes when you haven’t faced adversity, it can be scary,” the coach continued. “You don’t always know how you’re going to react.”
No. 2 singles player Aziza Burgoon — of course, a senior — completed an undefeated season by winning a marathon final over WIC’s Seanna Stine, 7-5, 7-5.
IM also got singles titles from No. 3 Natalia Brown and No. 4 Rediet Husing, along with a doubles championship from No. 1 Elle Lofholm and Anja Kleiman.
But the biggest cheers and shrieks came after IM finished its singles sweep when No. 1 Callie Bianco pulled off a 6-4, 6-4 win over Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel.
Schiefel led 4-2 in the second set looking to force a deciding third before Bianco won the final four games.
“I just was trying to stay focused, work the ball and follow through,” Bianco said. “And maybe the most important thing was to be patient, not panic.
“I’m known for being an impatient player. When I’m on, I like to be aggressive, but I know that when I’m not on, I have to focus on being patient.”
Asked if she was “on” Thursday, she was emphatic with her “Yes I was!”
One coach trying to be patient but excited for next season is Ishpeming’s Kaitlin Rich, who watched her junior-laden team set the groundwork for a big season next fall.
“We’ve already made a big improvement from last year,” she said. “I’m proud of how hard our girls have worked to make that improvement.
“Half of our players are dual-sport athletes, which means they’re playing another sport this fall, too, so they really have to balance their workload.”
The Hematites carted off one championship, one of the last finishing finals matches at No. 3 doubles when Kaitlyn VanDeuren and Paige Palomaki had to win a third-set tiebreaker to defeat WIC’s Bailey Hoffart and Aubrey Richardson 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1).
That result decided the runner-up position team-wise as a Wykons’ win would’ve reversed their point totals and places in the standings.
“We had five finalists, at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 1, 2 and 3 doubles,” Rich said. “We return nine of our juniors next year, so I’m really looking forward to next year. I think we should be ready to make a run at the U.P.’s (title) next year.
“Kaitlyn and Paige, those two by far are the most improved players from last year,” the Ishpeming coach added.
WIC veteran coach Joe Serbentas was philosophical after his players won a pair of doubles titles, at No. 2 with sisters Autumn Smith and Kaitlyn Smith and at No. 4 with Destiny Lemery and Olivia Lamay.
“We’ve played well at the U.P.’s the last five or six years, but we also seemed to come up that point short,” he said. “Iron Mountain is so senior-loaded, you just knew that they were the big favorites today.
“We had a 5-7-1 record in dual meets, but we play a lot of the best teams in the U.P., so I still think that’s pretty good.”
Gwinn made a run at a U.P. flight championship for the first time in a number of years with Schiefel at No. 1 singles, much to her coach’s delight.
“She has such a passion for the sport, and she’s such an avid athlete,” Modeltowners coach Darcia Mattson said. “She runs track and is a phenomenal basketball player. She trains at AdvantEdge (athletic training facility in Marquette).
“She used to play tennis against her brother, Jared Rolland.
“And she’s not a big girl at all, but her heart is twice as big as she is.”
PHOTOS (Top) The Iron Mountain and Ishpeming No. 2 doubles pairs face off during a semifinal. (Middle) Anja Kleiman gets a racket on the ball during her and partner Elle Lofholm’s match at No. 1 doubles. (Below) Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel returns a volley at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Steve Brownlee.)