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Published: Thursday, 2/28/2008

Blade girls coach of the year: St. Wendelin coach credits his entire staff

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Fostoria St. Wendelin coach Aaron Smith led the Mohawks to their first Midland Athletic League title. The team is 24-0 entering tonight's Division IV regional semifinals. Fostoria St. Wendelin coach Aaron Smith led the Mohawks to their first Midland Athletic League title. The team is 24-0 entering tonight's Division IV regional semifinals.
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FOSTORIA - Fostoria St. Wendelin coach Aaron Smith believes a trio of coaches deserves recognition for the amazing season and stunning turnaround of the Mohawks.

Smith credited the triadic approach for the Mohawks' 24-0 record. He said assistants Roger Holman and Dave Lang are equally responsible for the team's first Midland Athletic League title since 1986 - the year the league was founded.

"It definitely has been a joint venture," Smith said.

Smith has been named The Blade's girls coach of the year for winning the program's first district championship.

Other candidates for the honor were Perrysburg's Mark Schrock, Lake's Dick Fox, Stryker's Steve Brown, Clay's Roger Achter, Bedford's Bill Ryan and Liberty-Benton's Nate Irwin.

The Mohawks, who had struggled for a decade, have outscored the opposition by an average of 30 points.

"The three-coach system has made it even more special," Smith said. "We are a very demanding group of coaches. We developed good relationships with the girls and that allows us to expect more from them. We asked them to just put up with us so they could turn things around. The girls have cooperated."

The group took over four years ago and Lang served as head coach the first two years with Smith as his assistant. The pair flip-flopped roles two seasons ago. The third key cog has been Holman, who coached the St. Wendelin boys for 13 years.

"The girls had been 2-40 the prior two seasons but with three of us working together we thought we could put enough time in and we thought we could turn the program around," Smith said.

The team improved gradually each year going 8-13 and then 13-8. It was the Mohawks first winning season since 1995-96.

After winning just one game before Smith and company got on board, the Mohawks won a sectional title that first year they took over.

"That set the tone," Smith said.

St. Wendelin then posted an 18-3 mark last year that has sparked this year's 24-0 run. The Mohawks play Mansfield St. Peter's (17-6) tonight in a Division IV regional semifinal.

Senior guard Dani Papenfus, who leads the team with 13.9 points per game, said she and her classmates had embraced the staff's up-tempo, pressure scheme by the end of that first season.

"Our freshman year we won a sectional title and beat Van Buren by four. It was a huge upset," Papenfus said. "That's when we officially bought into it."

Smith said each coach has their own strengths. He said Lang handles the tactical aspects and drills. Holman is the offensive coordinator and Smith runs the defense.

"We thought if Dave concentrated on fundamentals 100 percent, and Roger ran the offense, and I put time into the defense that it would work out really well," Smith said.

Smith admitted he often is the most vocal.

"They've allowed us to lean on them and pressure them," Smith said. "Once the seniors allowed us to do that, the rest of the girls saw we could win."

Even more remarkable is that the team faces a huge size disadvantage every time it takes the court. The starting five averages just 5-foot-6. So Smith devised a system to turn a potential weakness into a strength.

The Mohawks utilize a three-guard set that applies constant full-court pressure and scores off turnovers.

"We like to pressure all over the floor all the time," he said. "We got through districts strictly with pressure. We are so small. But our guards put so much pressure on the other team it is hard for them to look inside."

He said the team is very blue collar with no particular standout.

"Other teams look at us and they don't think we can beat them," Smith said.

The team's guards stand 5-3, 5-4 and 5-5.

"We're not intimidating looking," Smith said. "But once the game starts they find out how fast we are and have trouble compensating for our speed. You can't simulate our speed."

Smith said the three coaches get along well even though they have different philosophies.

"All the coaches have put in an abundant amount of time," he said.

Smith said he can't imagine a better group of players to capture school's first outright league title (10-0).

"It's been a fairy tale year for this program," Smith said. "We've taken it from where it was to this incredible height. We want to make sure we enjoy this as much as we can."



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