By Steve Pratt
The 2019 Division II Wilson/ITA Women’s Coach of the Year Michael Cabana from Wingate University better make some room on his trophy mantel for his Husband/Father of the Year Award.
As hundreds of college tennis coaches prepare to descend upon Naples, Fla., over the next few days to attend the annual ITA Coaches Convention, Cabana decided to take advantage of the warm Florida weather and spend a few days with his wife, two girls and Mickey Mouse and friends at Disney World in nearby Orlando.
“My family does sacrifice a lot during the season so it’s nice to be able to take this time and have some fun,” Cabana said Monday while taking a break from a stroll around Disney’s Epcot Center Resort a day after visiting the Magic Kingdom. “Attending the ITA Coaches Convention is a great opportunity each year. Just to be there with all the other caches and sharing stories and talking. There are a lot of things on the agenda for me as a coach to learn and grow. Every opportunity I get to learn more as a coach I look forward to.”
Cabana is one of nine coaches who will be honored during the ITA Coaches Convention, which since 1985 has served as the gathering place for the association’s annual meetings, which includes its Board of Directors and Operating Committee meetings. This year’s event will open on Friday, Dec. 6, and conclude on Monday, Dec. 9.
Men and Women: Chase Hodges (Georgia Gwinnett College)
Cabana, who has also served as the men’s coach at North Carolina’s Wingate since 2006, said he was deeply honored being named Coach of the Year back in May. “I work with a lot of great coaches, and honestly when I heard the news it took a day or two to sink in,” said Cabana, whose mother Jo is the long-time varsity girls’ tennis coach at Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic High School. “Just the scope of the award and what it means to be a National Coach of the Year; I was very honored about that.”
ITA Convention Schedule
He added: “You work hard, but you don’t work hard to be recognized. But when you do put in the time, it’s nice to be recognized. We have turned a program around after winning just three matches my first season to now competing on a national level each year.”
The Division II Coach of the Year on the men’s side is Joshua Cobble from Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. “To me being named Coach of the Year means that we are doing the right things with the program,” Cobble said. “I’m proud to have the opportunity to have coached a great group of young men that work hard to make the most of their ability on and off the court. For other coaches to recognize me for doing what they do is very special.”
Georgia Gwinnett College’s Chase Hodges swept the Wilson/ITA Coach of the Year honors for his work with both the men’s and women’s teams. He led the men to a 23-0 record and a 100-plus match winning streak during the 2019 season. “It’s certainly a humbling experience to win both the national men’s and women’s coach of the year award,” said Hodges, whose teams have won a total of 11 national titles. “It means a great deal as it shows appreciation for what both programs have accomplished.”
Hodges said he’s looking forward to “learning innovative and creative ideas” at the convention.
“It’s always special when you have an opportunity to work together with your coaching peers in order to further develop the brand of collegiate tennis,” Hodges said. “A coach has the opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact on young people’s lives. As a coach, you are able to effectively make change and influence student-athletes in a positive way on a daily basis. There aren’t too many professions that allow you to do this. As a coach, I wake up every day full of gratitude that I’ve been given this opportunity to lead by example.”
ITA Convention Speakers
Like Cabana, Cobble and Hodges, Tyler Junior College’s Dash Connell also coaches both the men’s and women’s teams, earning his Wilson/ITA Coach of the Year award for his work with the women after leading the Apaches to an 11-3 record and Region 14 championship.
“This type of award shows more about the program than the coach,” Connell said. “It proves that the players and environment we have been able to continue at Tyler Junior College has led to a lot of success. I take a lot of pride in that success, but it really reminds me that the players have done so much to help their coach do his job well.”
Hanging out with his coaching peers is what Connell is most looking forward to while attending the convention. “There are only so many people who truly understand what this job holds each day and it is encouraging to be with them. I also love the process of meeting as a group to go over changes in the sport to keep it more relevant.”
South Carolina’s Epley said: “It’s nice to be recognized at a national level. There are lots of great coaches out there and it means a lot that others respect the hard work and success the team achieved last year.”
Epley, who was also the SEC Coach of the Year, said being a coach is more than just what happens between the lines on the court. “A coach more than anything else – more than the x’s and o’s – is a mentor who helps young people discover the best means to navigate difficult landscapes. Through this process, the coach can help lay the foundation for not only a successful sports career but a successful life afterwards.”
Division III women’s Coach of the Year Fried of Wesleyan University in Middleton, Conn., credited the amazing team members, assistant coaches and administrators in his athletic department with making his award possible.
“I’m obviously extremely honored to be recognized by my peers,” Fried said. “It means a tremendous amount to me, as I, like so many other coaches, put so much of my heart and soul into my program.”
Fried added, “Being a coach means having the opportunity to try to help kids grow as players, teammates, leaders and people on a daily basis.”
Cobble will be thinking most about his players when he accepts his award. “Being a coach is about the players; teaching them to be winners for life and trying to model that alongside them. If we can have success on court, then they get to see that doing things the right way pays off. Seeing the teams hard