2012 Spring Preview: In her court - Suzie Heideman takes reins of East Ridge tennis teamA Mounds View graduate and Wisconsin State Coach of the Year in 2005, first-year East Ridge head coach Suzie Heideman now has the reins of the up-and-coming Raptors boys tennis team.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, South Washington County Bulletin
When Suzie Heideman first became a head tennis coach, she was so young she would often get mistaken for one of the players on the team. Then, when she began coaching boys, coaches from opposing teams would, more often than not, introduce themselves to her male assistant coach before matches.
“They just assumed he was the head coach,” Heideman said.
With a number of coaching years and experiences under her belt, Heideman, 33, now has the reins of the up-and-coming East Ridge boys tennis team. A former elementary school teacher and now stay at home mother-of-two, Heideman said she doesn’t see any specific challenges because she is a woman in charge of a boys program.
“I guess if there is somebody who thinks it’s odd, maybe I would have to prove myself more than a man would,” she said. “But, I think I have the respect of the players and the parents from the meetings and the practices we’ve had. The parent support has been outstanding at East Ridge. That’s made my job much more enjoyable.”
Heideman, a Cottage Grove resident, has coached boys teams in the past – and had a lot of success. At Greendale High School, outside of Milwaukee, Wis., Heideman was voted the Wisconsin State Coach of the Year and led her boys team to a state championship in 2005.
“I like coaching boys because of their competitive nature,” Heideman said. “They go out and compete and they know there is going to be a winner and a loser and that’s that. I really enjoy coaching boys. These boys, especially, seem like they want to get better and they’re going to put in the time and the effort. I’m really looking forward to the season.”
Under her leadership for six seasons, the boys and girls varsity squads at Greendale won an impressive five conference championships.
“I walked into a very good situation. It was a very talented team and that was a lot of pressure,” she said. “Coming into East Ridge I feel pressure, too, but it’s different. The only way to move is up. It’s a new school, there aren’t any traditions yet and we have a lot of young players. I hope to build this program up and get people in the community excited about tennis.”
Heideman said one of the greatest highlights of her coaching career is that five former players from her state championship team at Greendale are now coaching today.
“For them to love the game so much that they want to teach the game and the drills that I taught them is really cool,” she said. “It makes me feel good that they had such a good experience that now they want that for other people. That’s something I’m most proud of.”
Heideman, who took the reins of the Raptors from Brad Allan - the head coach in the school’s first two seasons - is also a standout tennis player herself. Heideman graduated from Mounds View High School in 1997 where she captained three varsity sports – tennis, basketball and softball – competed in the state tennis tournament, and received the Athena Award.
At Mounds View, Heideman was coached by longtime Mustangs’ coach Mike Cartwright – one of the most renowned high school tennis coaches in the state. Heideman said she learned a lot from Cartwright, who still coaches Mounds View’s boys and girls tennis teams and will be an opponent of the Raptors this spring.
“I definitely looked up to him,” she said. “I use a lot of the games and drills I learned from him throughout the years. I’ve already talked to him. I told him to watch out for East Ridge.”
After high school, Heideman competed for the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, where her teams won four consecutive WIAC conference championships. During the spring of her senior season, the team advanced to the Div. III National Championships, topping off an impressive four-year rise to the top. Heideman continues to play and competes in USTA League tennis at the 4.5 level, where three of her teams have advanced to the National Championships. Her family was named USTA Tennis Family of the Year for the Northern Section in 2003.
Heideman said one of her major goals is to make the atmosphere more team-oriented than it may have been in the past. She is incorporating new things including team dinners, team-building exercises and community outreach programs like a “Little Raptors Night” in order to build enthusiasm in the sport.
“Hopefully we can be a more cohesive unit and get to know each other better,” Heideman said. “Based on my experience, my favorite teams have been true teams instead of just a bunch of individuals competing together. I’ve had a lot of fun team experiences myself and that’s what I want for other players.
Tennis is often viewed as an individual sport, but it’s not. You can lose one day as an individual, but your team can win and pick you up. Or you can win your match and help your team out.”
East Ridge has a record number of boys out for tennis this spring – 45 (12 on varsity, 33 on junior varsity). Heideman said she decided on the teams at the end of last week and there are still a lot of unanswered questions about what players will play in what positions. Her main goals this year are for the boys “to have fun and improve.”
“Usually by winning, you have more fun, but just having fun and improving are my major goals,” she said. “So far the boys have been really, really nice and have been working really hard. Bottom line, I just hope to motivate the players to want to continually get better as a team and as individuals and have it be a positive experience on and off the court.”
Heideman brought in two accomplished assistant coaches to help her out - Doug Matuska and Tony Rodriguez. Matuska has been a tennis teaching professional for close to 20 years. He also coached college tennis at Hamline University and is a master tennis player himself. He and Heideman have competed against each other in mixed-doubles matches throughout the years.
“He’s a great, great player and person and a phenomenal coach,” Heideman said. “It’s really nice to have him on board.”
Rodriguez has been a teaching pro even longer than Matuska, and was actually Matuska’s coach when he was a junior tennis player.
“They have a great relationship,” Heideman said. “Tony has been there, done that. Tennis has been a part of his life for a long, long time. He loves the game and wants kids to love it too, the same way Doug and I do too.”