COLUMN: Oxford High tennis coach Louis Nash doesn’t like to brag about his long list of accomplishments. Never has, likely never will.
It’s rare to find a coach, in any sport, that has done as much as Nash has done at three different high schools. From his first team title at Laurel in 1982, to the amazing string of championships he has won at OHS, Nash’s record and dedication to his players speaks for itself.
Two years after being named the top tennis mentor by the Mississippi Association of Coaches, Nash was recognized by the MHSAA today as the top tennis coach in the state for 2010. Nash was joined in Jackson today by Oxford Athletics Director Johnny Hill and assistant coach Ashley Freeman for a ceremony prior to the MHSAA’s legislative council meeting that honored Nash with the NFHS Coaches Association 2010 State Coach of the Year award.
Winning this type of recognition isn’t why Nash took up coaching, but he was glad to accept the award because it was another way to help shed light on his program and players that have now won 118 matches in a row.
“You are surprised when you get them, you are thankful for the kids you have playing for you and you’re thankful for winning them. It’s as simple as that,” Nash said about the award from the MHSAA that includes countless coaches from a bevy of sports. “(MHSAA) sees everybody and they have interaction with everybody from the biggest school to the smallest school. I don’t know if it means anymore because the MAC is more of your peers and this is more of a broader field of applicants, but it’s special. I’m just thankful for all the good talent I’ve had at all the schools I have been at.”
Today’s award is also special to several members of Nash’s team, including seniors Mary Bryan Barksdale and Sterling Davis.
“I’m very proud that everyone else is recognizing him. Whenever we go to play matches, I’m just proud to have him as my coach. I wouldn’t trade him for any other coach,” Barksdale said. “He hasn’t just improved me in tennis, but I think we have all improved as people. Our character has improved, our work ethic, our teamwork and when to take things seriously and when to have fun and be more playful.”
Davis, who routinely teams with Barksdale in doubles play, called the award amazing and said the things she likes best about Nash is his ability to relate to the players and get the most out of them each match.
“It makes me feel really great and really lucky to have him as a coach. I don’t know all the coaches, but it’s not surprising that he is the coach of the year. He’s a great coach and everyone on our team is so happy for him,” Davis said. “He can be serious as a dog and then so playful. What I like most about him is he doesn’t just want to win, he wants to win 7-0. It’s go hard or go home. He wants us to focus on attitude. It makes us so pumped up before matches.”
Hill said he could see Nash being a comedian if he wasn’t a tennis coach because of his great sense of humor.
“He has a way of relating to his players. He has built great relationships with them over the years. It’s quite an honor for him to get this and of course it’s well deserving. You can put his record up against anybody,” Hill said. “He’s done a super job with this tennis program, and not only our tennis program, but every tennis program that he’s coached. We lose players every year but he never rebuilds, he reloads.”
There was a point early on in Nash’s tenure at OHS where rebuilding was a more accurate statement to use than reloading. Even though the program had won two state titles prior to his arrival, there was less stability on a year-to-year basis. After establishing a feeder system with the help of Oxford Park Commission tennis instructor Debbie Swindoll, the wins have piled up.
Nash said he had no doubt things would work out well just because of the support system in place at OHS and the community.
“I can go back to the very beginning here from the time we were scrapping for points. I enjoyed that first team every bit as much as I enjoy this bunch. They had to get used to a whole new deal and they did. They bought into it so completely. It all kind of built up,” Nash said. “We have too much going for us as far as talent level of the kids, as far as facilities, support system and Johnny was all for it. He wanted as good of a tennis program as we could put together.
“The booster club has supported it and the administration at the school has always let us play when we needed to play and you don’t get that everywhere,” Nash added. “There are places that don’t let you take off on a Friday and play the matches you need to get better.”
The program that Nash has created has turned into a rich tradition, one that the players are not willing to let fall down and ruin his reputation as the top coach in the state.
“It’s not just our competitiveness that helps us win every match and our talent, it’s also because we want to make him proud and we look up to him. He pushes us to do it and for us to live up to what he wants from us,” Barksdale said. “He always tells us that when he first got here they weren’t winning so he wants us to keep things going. We feel like we have a responsibility to keep it up and we have to teach all the younger players how they’re going to keep winning and the reputation of the team.” (April 7, 2011, Page 6)