Coach of the Year: Steffen has Walker beat the odds
by Adam Carrington
June 06, 2013 12:02 AM | 2058 views | 3 3 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It wasn’t long ago when the Walker girls tennis team went on a streak of two straight state titles followed by back-to-back appearances in the state finals in both Class A and AA.

Those were the days when eventual Division I players Katherine Oudin and Sydney Grant was leading the team at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively, and were not strong in doubles.

The dynamics have changed since Walker last made the state finals in 2010. They don’t have a potential Division I star on the roster at the moment and only one player plays tournaments year-round.

Yet coach Jan Steffen found a way to lead the Lady Wolverines to a state championship against teams that have experienced tournament players.

After qualifying for the Class A private school state tournament as Region 6A’s No. 3 seed, the Lady Wolverines, who emerged as state champions despite finishing with a 9-8 record, traveled to every postseason match. They didn’t stop trekking until they beat Mount Pisgah 3-2 in the finals at Clayton County International Park, joining the Walker boys as state champions.

And Walker made it to the finals by winning a pair of 3-2 matches over Brookstone and Pace Academy.

“The boys were expecting to win state,” Steffen said. “We kept doing our job and wining our matches. It kind of shocked the boys that we were also celebrating a state championship.”

Knowing she wasn’t going to have top-tier players on her roster, Steffen wanted to win with two strong doubles teams, and she found the right combinations to be successful.

For her efforts, Steffen was named Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Tennis Coach of the Year.

“I wasn’t real sure what to expect,” Steffen said when asked about her expectations for this season. “We had two freshmen and a sophomore that could be impact players but wasn’t sure. I knew in the past, we relied on singles players to get us through our matches, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen this year.”

Freshman Audrey Cunningham was the only confirmed tournament player on Walker’s roster with freshman and No. 3 singles player Mia Patello on track to play tennis year-round.

The biggest pivotal move Steffen made was pairing Cunningham and sophomore Leigh Norsworthy at No. 1 doubles. With Walker being outplayed at No. 1 and No. 2 singles in its state final match against Mount Pisgah, Cummingham and Norsworthy’s came through with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Nicole Peters and Cissy Jamieson at No. 1 doubles after losing to Peters and Jamieson in the 6A tournament semifinals.

Holly Harkins and Caroline Kunitz also jelled at No. 2 doubles, which helped the Lady Wolverines.

Walker also benefitted when Carly Bloom raised her game down the stretch at No. 2 singles. Bloom, who was a doubles player as a freshman when Walker last made the state finals, got a pivotal straight set win against Brookstone before Cunningham and Norsworthy won the clincher.

Steffen strengthened the Lady Wolverines with a difficult non-region schedule. Walker played Harrison, North Cobb and Hillgrove and Woodstock and nearly beat Harrison.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Tennis Fan
June 06, 2013
Nothing against Coach Page but she was EXPECTED to win the championship. With the players she has at Walton, there's not much coaching that has to be done. One can pretty much can send them out there and then phone in the winning results to the MDJ.

Coach of the Year is about COACHING and getting the most out of what you have to work with. It is NOT about who has the most talented players.

BTW: Where is East Cpbb?
East Cpbb Tennis
June 06, 2013
Nothing against Coach Steffen and her fine program but Coach Christy Page, whose team went undefeated in the strongest and largest division in the State and won both the Region in the strongest Region in the State and the State Championship in the strongest and largest division in the state deserved Coach of the Year honors.
June 10, 2013
Its not always about the "strongest and largest" divisions. No offence but nobody really gives a hoot about division here, this is about coaching, and Coach Steffen worked really hard to coach her team to win the finals. She fully deserves this award.
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