After last Tuesday’s exit from the semifinal round of the NCAA Division III women’s tennis tournament, Kenyon women’s tennis head coach Scott Thielke gathered his team and told the ladies the result would be his last. After 28 years with the program, he announced his retirement.
Thielke began his career at Kenyon in 1985-86 academic year. He coached for four years before moving on to coach at his alma mater, the University of South Alabama, and then at Colgate University. He returned to Kenyon prior to the 1997-98 season and has been here since.
“Being a part of the Kenyon tennis family in five different decades has given me a lifetime of memories,” Thielke said. “In the fall of 1985, I came to the village of Gambier for the first time. The first group of players I coached are now in their 50s and I still remember them as if it were yesterday. I want to thank all of the Lords and Ladies, as well as my great assistant coaches, who put in so much work to help us be a nationally competitive team for so many decades.”
“Coach Thielke has built a top-notch, well-respected tennis program here at Kenyon,” Director of Athletics, Fitness, and Recreation Jill McCartney said. “His dedication to the program and the student-athletes is remarkable not only for its longevity but also for the quality of the entire experience. There are very few coaches who will ever reach the level of success that Coach Thielke has achieved while being beloved by those who have played for him. Scott is simply one of the best at what he does.”
In his 28 years with the Ladies program, Thielke amassed a remarkable 398-180 coaching record. He guided the Ladies to 12 of their record 19 North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) titles, including titles in each of the last four seasons (there was no NCAC competition in the 2020 season).
At the national level, Thielke steered Ladies’ teams to 14 NCAA Division III Championship appearances. Five of those appearances resulted in national semifinal showings and three led to national runner-up finishes. Thielke also had a dozen players make a combined 20 appearances in the NCAA Division III Singles Championship, as well as seven duos earn bids to NCAA Division III Doubles Championships.
Fourteen of Thielke’s teams ended their seasons ranked within the Top-25 in the nation. Six of those teams concluded seasons with a Top-10 rank.
In 1989, Thielke coached Kathryn Lane and Julia Kipka to a national runner-up finish in the Doubles Championship. Upon his return in 1998, he coached Caryn Cuthbert to a national runner-up spot in the Singles Championship. That same year, Cuthbert teamed with Erin Hockman to win the national championship in doubles play.
With Thielke at the helm of the Kenyon program, Ladies have been awarded 11 All-America honors in singles play and eight All-America honors in doubles play. Ten of his student-athletes combined to win 13 NCAC Player of the Year awards and seven were tabbed NCAC Newcomer of the Year.
Eighteen of Thielke’s Ladies’ teams earned the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) All-Academic Team award and, since 2002, more than 75 of his student-athletes collected ITA Scholar-Athlete honors.
Thielke, himself, was a 10-time winner of the NCAC Coach of the Year award, including this past season in which the Ladies went 11-1, won a conference title, and made a run all the way to the NCAA Division III Championship semifinal round.
“The team went through so much this year. Our senior class had two seasons that were interrupted, but this year’s team was still able to get into the Final Four of the NCAA Championship,” Thielke said. “Watching them play this year was a gift to me and to Kenyon College. We’ll return a very solid group of players and I feel that the program will continue to find success in the years to come. I will remain a part of Kenyon tennis for as long as possible.”
In the short term, Thielke still has some coaching to do. Beginning Friday, senior Erika Oku will play in the NCAA Singles Championship. She’ll also pair with junior Daria Beshentseva to play in the Doubles Championship.
“Scott is definitely a respected coach among his colleagues. He has been a terrific teammate, co-worker, and mentor,” McCartney said. “His veteran leadership has consistently provided motivation and support for his team to turn obstacles into opportunities for success. He is stepping aside while still, clearly, at the top of his game.”
Last April, Thielke stepped away from coaching the Lords tennis program, which he directed for 25 years and posted a 419-146 record.
Overall, in a coaching career that spanned 36 years and three institutions, Thielke enters retirement with a combined career coaching record of 1,071-439 (565-200 in men’s competition and 506-239 in women’s).
“More than anything, I want to thank my unbelievable wife Nita and great children Brittany and Shelby,” Thielke added. “They sacrificed many normal family events that allowed me to do what I loved.”