Thursday, April 3, 2014
Looking to regain a state championship, the Waccamaw High boys tennis team has turned to Army Lt. Col. Lynn Hunt (Ret.), to bring discipline, motivation and strategy to their game.
The Warriors won the Class AA state championship in 2012. In 2013, the team won Lower State but lost in the state championship.
“We needed someone who could motivate us to play our best, and we have that with Coach Hunt,” said senior Woody Tudor.
“Coach Hunt is awesome, he’s just what we need,” added senior Jazz Greene.
State championships are no stranger to Hunt.
Last year, with Hunt as their assistant coach, the Socastee High boys tennis team captured the state Class AAA championship. It was the first time Socastee had won a state championship in any sport in 33 years.
The Waccamaw team is looking forward to the same type of leadership from Hunt. “He means business,” said junior James Lee. “He knows how to motivate us individually to make us stronger as a team.”
Hunt did not hesitate to take the Waccamaw head coaching job.
“I feel like I have a connection with this team,” Hunt said. “I’ve watched my tennis mentor, Jimmy Mendieta, coach many of these boys. I’ve practically watched Paul, Justin, and the Hewes brothers grow up on the courts.”
A stand-out athlete himself, Hunt was a three-time All-American swimmer in high school. Recruited by the Army Athletic Association for his swimming prowess, Hunt became the top man in his class at West Point in physical achievement.
He graduated from West Point in 1966 and was an Army officer for 27 years.
Hunt draws parallels between the military and tennis.
“I love the structure of tennis, the decision-making tactics, and the strategy,” he said. “There are some similarities between my military career and my love of tennis -- the structure, the honesty, and the integrity of the game.”
Hunt emphasizes team effort.
before a recent match Hunt told his team: “When you are done with your individual match, you will not go home, you will go find your buddy and you will cheer him on during his match.”
Hunt knows the importance of supporting teammates – just as he knew the importance of soldiers supporting their brother soldiers in the battlefields of Vietnam, where he served as a second lieutenant in Charlie Company. That unit engaged in some of the fiercest fighting during the Vietnam War in 1967 in the Mekong Delta.
His men fought for one reason: “They fought for each other,” Hunt said.
Hunt’s unit was the subject of a book, “The Boys of 67,” that also was featured in a recent National Geographic television documentary.
Hunt was both Ranger and Airborne qualified, and was awarded two Silver Stars, and a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam.
Cautious not to bring the discipline hammer down too hard at first, Hunt gathered his team together last week, just before a home double header against Aynor, and reminded them of a rule he does not take lightly. Softly but firmly, Hunt said, “The next guy who misses a practice or match without my permission will not play – period.”
Hunt said he is not in this to just regain a title for the Waccamaw team. He is in for the long haul and wants to build a solid team.
“We have 27 players on the roster, and the top tier of the [junior varsity] is highly skilled,” he said.
Showing his confidence in the junior varsity team, Hunt started seventh-grader Thomas Rowland in the No. five position against Aynor last week.
“We had an opportunity, and I put Thomas in a match against a young man who I considered to be the best athlete on Aynor’s team.” Hunt’s faith in Rowland paid off, Rowland won the match in straight sets.
Hunt believes hard work and discipline are key to successful tennis, and that starts in practice and carries over into games.
“I want to see rivulets of sweat running down their faces, and I want to hear their lungs gasping for air,” he said with his trademark slight smile.
But he also said he doesn’t ask any more from his players than he asks from himself when he plays. Hunt and his wife, Mary, are both avid and competitive tennis players.
Hunt looks back to the support he received from a coach when he was in high school in Florida. He credits his high school swimming coach with being the most significant influence in his life.
“Bill Diaz, our coach, could not even swim, but he was an unbelievable coach and motivator.”
Diaz led the high school swimming team to state championships five years in a row.
“Our coach taught us how to develop our skills,” Hunt said. “This is what the Waccamaw boys need. They must develop individually, but work as a team.”
Hunt sees himself in the same role as his swimming coach. He may not be able to beat his players on the courts, but he can certainly motivate them to beat their opponents.
Hunt has close associations with some of the best teaching professionals in tennis. Mike Zavacky, a USPTA teaching professional with over 25 years of experience, is committed to assisting Hunt during practice two days a week.
“These kids are great, they are really working hard, and I am happy to be able to help out with the team,” Zavacky said.
Explaining his coaching techniques, Hunt said, “Each one of my guys is motivated by something different. I can’t coach Justin the same way I coach Trip. It just won’t work.”
His No. 1 goal as a coach is to learn about his players, who range in age from 12 to 18.
“I am basically coaching kids and adults,” he said. Further, within those age groups, Hunt says he has everything from beginners to well-trained and extremely talented players. Every practice places him in a melting pot of players. Some are honing their skills and others are using their skills to elevate their strategies.
As diverse as the team is, with players from seventh through 12th grades, some attending Waccamaw schools and some being home-schooled, it’s no wonder Hunt moves from court-to-court with notebook in hand, consulting his notes about individual players.
Hunt has one cardinal rule about coaching: “No one wants to be criticized in front of their peers. I stick to a strict policy of praising publicly, and criticizing privately.”