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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2007

All-Blade: Second-year coach Zemanski pushes AW to its first NLL crown

The future looks bright for Justin Zemanski, whose Anthony Wayne girls basketball team started three sophomores and won its first Northern Lakes League championship. The future looks bright for Justin Zemanski, whose Anthony Wayne girls basketball team started three sophomores and won its first Northern Lakes League championship.

In only two years as Anthony Wayne's girls basketball coach, Justin Zemanski has taken the Generals to new heights.

The Generals had never won the Northern Lakes League championship nor had they ever experienced an undefeated campaign in league play before this year.

AW had never put a string of 19 consecutive wins together before, or finished the regular season 19-1 - the best in team history.

Such firsts for the Generals make Zemanski this year's choice for The Blade's girls coach of the year.

Waite's Manny May, Swanton's Frank Onweller, Ottawa Hills' Sean Mercer, Hopewell-Loudon's Jeff Ritzler, Fostoria St. Wendelin's Aaron Smith and Stryker's Steve Brown were among the contenders for coach of the year honors.

"We knew this could be possible," Zemanski said of the Generals' near-perfect regular season. "We also knew we had to stay healthy and stay hungry.

"This is one of those years that don't happen very often and you don't want to see the season end," said Zemanski, whose team will take on Findlay in a Division I district semifinal tonight at Bowling Green. The Trojans were the only team to defeat Anthony Wayne, which finished the regular season 19-1.

AW, led by sophomore sensation Allison Papenfuss and senior Jordyn Sadowski, was considered favorites for the NLL title. With a starting lineup that included three sophomores, the Generals came together and marched their way to the top of the NLL with a 14-0 record.

"We told them, 'You do have to get better every day because if you don't other teams will,'•" Zemanski said.

The 27-year-old coached a few AAU teams, summer league teams and junior varsity teams after graduating from Miami University in 2002.

However, after a few stops working as a high school assistant coach, Zemanski felt ready to run his own program. The opportunity came two years ago at AW.

The Generals are 32-11 overall and 23-5 in the NLL in two seasons under Zemanski.

"The girls are good listeners and they're eager to learn," Zemanski said. "I think the kids at AW have been willing to sacrifice time to improve themselves. And this group of girls has been getting better every year."

Zemanski credits several coaches for his development. Defiance's Kirk Lehman, Bowling Green's Von Graffin and former Rossford coach Del Clayton were coaches at Rossford when he played in high school.

"I never played on a losing team from seventh grade to 12th grade and I had great coaches there. That's why I'm into coaching today," he said. "I had a positive experience playing for them and thought I'd like to one day coach."

Zemanski said he has also benefited from working as an assistant coach at Montpelier under Todd Grosjean.

He also credits AW assistant, Pat Phillips, for being an integral part of the Generals' success. Phillips provides major input in what the Generals employ on defense.

AW is a team loaded with underclassmen, including four sophomores led by Papenfuss, who averaged 15.9 points and 10.6 rebounds. Eight of the Generals have played on Zemanski's AAU teams.

"It was a good year and we thought we had the personnel to do it [win the league]," Zemanski said.

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