Mary Jo Colonna named MHSTeCA Coach of the Year

By Wendi Reardon Price
Staff Writer
— Clarkston Girls Varsity Tennis had many reasons to celebrate the spring season. They reached their goal as state champions and head coach Mary Jo Colonna was named Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association Division 1 Coach of the Year.
“It’s such an honor,” said Colonna. “Not many women get it in tennis so I was really surprised. I think we have definitely earned it. It’s not just me, it’s my whole staff – Nikole Carlson Hartzell, Julie Zerba and Michelle Watson. It’s my vision, but I can’t do it by myself I have a really good team. I am really grateful. I am ecstatic.”
She added she was happy the girls will have the memory of season for the rest of their lives.
“I have been talking about it for a really long time,” Colonna said. “I am very relieved I was able to help them get there.”
The players were happy as well and shared their thoughts on their coach receiving the honor.
“I have known Mary Jo for the majority of my life, starting when I was seven,” said Kate Ketzler, who spent her junior year on Doubles Flight 1. “She has been with me throughout my entire tennis journey and has heavily impacted who I am today.
“Mary Jo is the most supportive and patient coach you’ll ever meet.,” Ketzler continued. “I believe her positive attitude is a major factor in what leads the team and myself to achieve such great accomplishments. She always had faith in the team and me, and she always believed we would do great things. Mary Jo is constantly trying to build us up and make us the best versions of ourselves. She has become such an important part of my life and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for all she has taught me, not only in tennis, but in everyday life.”
Kat Fisher, who played on Doubles Flight 2 and graduated in early June shared Colonna has been an inspirational coach and mentor.
“She reminded me I belonged on varsity when I was a freshman and was unsure of myself,” Fisher said. “She has always believed in me and encouraged me to play to my strengths. Even when I have been down a set, she has pushed me to keep fighting to come back from behind. I admire how she cultivated this team, teaching many players since they were little, with one goal in mind: to win states. And, now her dream has become a reality.”
Paityn Sweet, who spent her past freshman year on Doubles Flight 5, said, “Mary Jo has made me immensely more confident all around, helped me improve not only the things I need to work on but strengthen all skills while staying positive and encouraging, and maintaining an aspect of fun as well. She has overall helped shape me into a better player in just three short months.”
“I truly believe that Mary Jo deserved to be Coach of Year because of the way she treats her players,” added Abigail Finnerty, who was a junior on the Doubles Flight 4 team. “Mary Jo treats us like equals. She understands everyone on the team has worked so hard to get there, and we care about tennis. There is a mutual understanding we all want to win, so she doesn’t have to motivate us to try. Instead she works on making sure we are the best players we can be. She knows what each person needs to thrive in a match and will provide whatever support we need.”
Colonna added the team’s success comes from the players.
“These girls have worked hard,” she said. “Honestly it was a relief because when you’re put in that position, when you’re ranked number one you know you don’t want to lose that spot. I was really proud of the girls staying focused and keeping their composure and not talking about it, just staying locked in and they did it. And, they did it convincingly too. No one was really close to us the whole time. I’m looking forward to having a new goal for the girls and trying to get them to want to do it again. The goal is to keep the program at the top now.”
She shared the varsity A team had two seniors graduate and two really good freshmen are coming in the spring. Plus, overall the program had a great turnout for the season with 55 student-athletes. It was enough for a JV, varsity A and varsity B team.
“One of my biggest rewards this year was that I had 10-12 seniors,” Colonna said. “They were beginners when they first came into the program and I could honestly, say all of them are good players. They stayed the whole four years. They could have quit because they knew they weren’t going to make varsity, but they stayed. That’s really good. My varsity B team could beat most in the OAA White.”
Another highlight for Colonna was the depth, as the team was strong in singles and doubles.
Colonna added it meant a lot to be named coach of the year.
“I needed to show myself that if you want to be a good coach in high school, you can easily do it,” she said. “You just have to be committed. You have to stay on the girls, you have to show them that you care and they’ll come out every year.”
Ginger Robinson, who played on the Doubles Flight 1 team as a junior, agreed sharing she stuck with tennis before of Colonna.
“Mary Jo has always created a safe space for me and my teammates, not only regarding tennis but for us as people,” Robinson said. “I’ve had her as my coach since I was seven, and the bond we’ve created from spending so many years together secures MJ as a special person in my heart. A huge reason I stuck with tennis when I was young, as well as a part of my improvement over time has been due to Mary Jo consistently making time for us to hit and do drills with her. She always had groups where we would develop our craftsmanship and connections with our friends. I will have gratitude toward her encouragement and welcoming love for the rest of my life.”
Also receiving honors from the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association were Leah Geisz, Sydney Geisz, Kayla Lemke with Singles All-State honors. Teams Fisher and Ava Henkel; and Ketzler and Robinson received Doubles All-State honors.

Mary Jo Colonna is Coach of the Year. Photo: Provided by Nikole Carlson Hartzel

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