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April 24, 2013 03:35 PM
For 25 years, Kathy Kolankiewicz was the face of women’s college tennis in New Mexico. As head coach at UNM, she posted 346 career wins and 222 losses. Three times her teams were ranked in the top-21 in the country. The Lobo women under Kolankiewicz reached the finals or semifinals of their conference championship 24 times. Fourteen times the team was named All-Academic. Three of her players were named All-American.  In 2009, Kolankiewicz, then 49, retired from college coaching. This spring she came out of retirement to return to coaching—of the girls’ tennis team at Bosque School.  
What were you doing during your retirement?
I went into the restaurant business. As you may know, my partner owns Tomato Café. I learned a whole new career, as a hostess and manager there. I enjoyed it. It was, in a way similar to coaching. I had to make sure things were done properly and I gave instructions to the staff. 
Did you give up tennis entirely?
Oh, no.  I gave some private lessons and played some. I joined a USTA league, a 4.5 team. I also played some national tournaments, mostly doubles, with Sara Loetscher.  It was fun to get back into competition.  It helped me understand the pressure and complexities of tennis.  I think you relate better to players if you play.
How did you wind up at Bosque?KathyK_002_(2)
Mary Wommack (NNMTA junior rec co-chair), who I’ve know for a long time, called me in September.  She said, “I know it’s a long short, but would you be interested in coaching the Bosque girls?” Holly Kowalski had coached the girls there and she resigned to have a baby. I thought about it a while, and then I realized, Hey, Bosque is two and half to three miles from my home.  Also I liked what I had heard about the school. I thought the campus was very nice and Bosque in a short time has established a solid tennis history in A-AAA, with the McDevitt sisters, and so on. Holly won a team  title in 2010, and before her, Klaus Weber coached the girls to three state championships.
Did you know any of this year’s team before you started?
KathyK_001_(2)Yes, Mary’s daughter, Louisa Mackenzie. I knew Louisa and her family. When Louisa was younger, she ran the scoreboard at the Lobo Club. Louisa and Clare Donahue won state doubles last year for Bosque.   
As a first-time high school coach, what surprises have you found?
The biggest shock was the different levels between my eight players.  For drills in college, you can have players do the same thing on every court. You can’t do that in high school. The top four girls here had played in tournaments. The other four had not. Another shock was attendance. In college, players came to the courts every single day unless they were on their deathbeds. A lot of high school players have other activities and they get sick. [Laughs.] Oh, the excuses I heard the first two or three weeks! “I can’t practice today; I forgot to bring a shoe.” Or, “I forgot to bring two shoes.” Or, “I can’t be at practice because I had my braces tightened and I have a headache.”
What rewards are you finding?
Every day the girls come here excited to play. I can work with them for one day on something and I’ll seen the improvement right away. Another reward is that there’s no recruiting and no traveling.
How are you getting along with the spring weather?
I have to admit, some days I really miss those bubbles at the Lobo Club.  We started practice in late January.  That was a lot better than March and April. The wind and cold many days has been awful. We had our first quad competition at Sierra Vista and I wore ski pants, ski jacket, thick wool hat and gloves. I don’t know why high school tennis isn’t played in the fall.
How often does your team practice?
We practice from 3:30 to 5.  Not a lot of time to work with kids.  I focus on one thing at practice.  Bosque is a small school. In the high school, there are only 300 students. There is no JV team for the girls, though the boys have JV tennis. 
How have the girls done thus far?
The first quad we played in we lost all three matches. The teams were good—Los Alamos, Mesilla Valley, Farmington.  That gave me a good idea where we stood. So far we’ve won our first seven eight matches.  
How does the individual play in college and high school differ?
In high school, the girls smile and laugh so much more than college players.  They even laugh with their opponents. They’re having fun. I never used to see that in college players.  They were much more serious. Along with that, I think sportsmanship is at a higher level in high school than in college. As a coach and as a player, there is so much more pressure in college. 
What do you hope to gain from this year?
If I can be a positive influence in these girls’ lives, that’ll mean everything.