One thing that cannot be denied about Pete Zannis: Science Hill had a great run under the tennis coach.
Zannis, who guided the Hilltoppers and Lady Hilltoppers tennis programs for 14 years, recently resigned from the position. He led Science Hill to five Class AAA team state titles, and also guided three doubles teams and one individual to championships.
However, he said the time was right for him to step down.
“I’ve always known there would come a time I wasn’t going to be coaching the high school team,” said Zannis. “I took the job thinking I would do it for one year when Coach (Mike) Voitlein asked me.
“I just thought this was the proper time to turn the team over to someone else while everything was going good.”
Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner said Zannis gave the Hilltoppers a unique advantage over most high school programs.
“Under TSSAA rules if a tennis coach is a tennis pro, he can give lessons if the kids pay for it,” said Zannis. “If he is just a coach in the school, he can’t do that.”
Zannis wasn’t just a tennis teacher, he was a master of the intricacies of the game. That was even a bigger advantage for Hilltoppers’ players.
“He would go to a kid who was struggling in a match, tell him or her a couple of things, and it would change the whole match,” said Turner. “I witnessed that myself at the state tournaments.”
Science Hill first conquered the state in 2002, winning the boys’ team title. But Zannis’ expertise really found a groove later in the decade. The boys won three consecutive titles (2007-09) while the Lady Hilltoppers followed suit in 2009.
That double dip gave Zannis his most memorable moment.
“I think it stands out because it brought together a culmination of all the hard work the kids had done throughout the years,” said Zannis. “When the girls came through and won at the same time as the boys, it was kind of a wake-up call. The kids really had pride in it, and Science Hill is noted for having great tennis teams.
“The main thing about the whole situation is making the players believe in themselves. It created confidence they could use their whole life, and the school and community got to know how good the players really were.”
Zannis was a big influence on Science Hill’s first individual state champion, Matt Czuchry in 1995, as a teaching pro. And when Zannis moved in as head coach, Bryan Breese and Ryan Reynolds won the doubles title in 2003. Jay Wilkinson and Alexander Greer won doubles in 2007 while Drew Kerr and John Storie followed it up with a doubles title in 2008.
After some close calls, Christopher Smith conquered the state singles title in 2009. Smith was also the anchor of the three team title champions.
“I’ve been proud of the things the kids accomplished through the years,” said Zannis. “I guess you could say every year it became more rewarding than I ever thought it would be when I started coaching.”
Zannis really capitalized on the team concept, consistently steering the boys to the final four or at least to the sectional round.
“The kids played together and worked for the common goal,” said Zannis. “They were able to do it together and everybody got one grade: win or loss. When you played as an individual you couldn’t share it with anybody else.
“I saw the success the kids were having, and it became an important part of my life. The ability to have an impact was so rewarding. It turned into something really good for me.”
Science Hill also had an advantage because of its fan support, said Zannis.
“When we won both titles, we took a picture of the boys, a picture of the girls, and then a picture of the boys and girls together,” said Zannis. “Then we decided to get all of the people in the picture who came down to the state tournament. We would go to the state, and have 100 people in the stands. It played a big role in us being able to achieve what we did.”
Zannis looked back and said Voitlein was a driving force in getting him to start coaching.
“He was the one who got me motivated to do it,” said Zannis. “I’m thankful for the opportunity he gave me, and thankful to the school.”
Zannis said he leaves the program on solid footing.
“I think we’re leaving a good boys and good girls team coming back,” said Zannis. “I think the program will continue to bring pride to the school, and the players will be able to enjoy it.”
He added D.C. Smith would be his choice to replace him if he could make that call.
“I appreciate what a great job he has done for me, helping me the last two or three years,” said Zannis.
Turner said the posting for the position will come down today, and interviews will begin soon.