Weekly Feature

2017-07-06 / Sports

Papke named Bee’s Coach of the Year

Dave Papke has been synonymous with swimming at West Seneca East for nearly the past decade, guiding both the girls and boys squads to solid finishes more often than not.

When numbers declined to where East was in jeopardy of not fielding a boys team, Papke stepped away — albeit temporarily — and focused solely on the Lady Trojans’ squad. But when the decision was made to combine the East and West boys teams to create a district wide entity boasting a healthy roster of eager athletes, Papke dove right back into the thick of things during the winter as well.

Both squads enjoyed success in their own way this year, and because of his ability to get the most out of each athlete on both teams, Papke has been named the West Seneca Bee’s 2016-17 Coach of the Year.

“When you see them reach a goal and see them smiling, just knowing you helped them reach that, it makes you feel good,” Papke said.

Papke, who swam at St. Francis and Buffalo State College, got into coaching swimming at 16 years old through the STAR club program. (Papke’s coach at STAR, Rick Aronberg, played a significant role in forming Papke’s coaching philosophies.) He then made the leap to coaching at the high school level as an assistant with East’s boys team in 2008, and within a year he was coaching with East’s girls team as well.

“I think the biggest thing for me is just figuring out the best way to motivate them through six days of practice, whether it be the kids on the boys team or the girls team,” Papke said. “It’s not always easy to constantly go back and forth in a pool all the time since there’s not that immediate gratification doing that like there is in other sports. It’s just a lot of working hard day in and day out — but these kids I had this year were definitely all about that.”

David Papke, the West Seneca Bee 2016-17 Coach of the Year, created this logo — with help from 2015-16 team member Bobby Breidenstein — for the combined East and West district boys swimming team to plaster across signs and banners in the team’s home pool at East Senior this past winter. David Papke, the West Seneca Bee 2016-17 Coach of the Year, created this logo — with help from 2015-16 team member Bobby Breidenstein — for the combined East and West district boys swimming team to plaster across signs and banners in the team’s home pool at East Senior this past winter. Keeping his swimmers’ interests was especially crucial for the stand-alone East girls team this past fall. The Lady Trojans featured a roster that trended more toward the younger end of the spectrum — and was without six-year team member Madi Jaszcz, who continued her career collegiately this year at Cleveland State — and had a number of less-meet-experienced swimmers in bigger roles, so keeping things positive was always at the front of Papke’s mind.

Fortunately for Papke, he was able to rely on the veteran poise that was constantly on display from junior co-captain Kassidy Aiken, a four-year member of the team, and fellow junior Alaina Lanthier, who was in her fifth season with the squad.

“Having the leadership of Kassidy and Alaina, especially, and how they took leadership roles and saw to it that the girls had fun, that’s how I saw us having success this year,” Papke said. “The girls were just a really tight group, which was great. We’d focus on enjoying the process as much as we’d work towards getting best times. The girls got to swim the events that they wanted to do because we weren’t worried as much about winning meets. There wasn’t as much stress about putting certain girls in certain events, because winning meets wasn’t our focus.

“I just really wanted as many kids as possible to come out for the team this year, so I was better about being encouraging than I’ve been in the past,” Papke continued. “Discipline is important, but you’ve got to know when it’s OK to turn that down and put the emphasis on the fun you’re having. In the end, we definitely got all we could get out of the season. We had a ton of girls come out for the team, and they were younger kids at that, so we were successful in that regard by keeping the interest level high enough to keep the team around and build on our achievements that way. If this group sticks with it, we should definitely be setting ourselves up for success down the road.”

Papke was especially encouraging of his girls toward the end of the season, placing more emphasis than some of his coaching colleagues do on the ECIC “BB” Championships. A good number of the Lady Trojans came up with their best performances of the season at that meet, which not only reinforced in themDavid Papke David Papke that Papke had them on the right track this past fall, but also led to six of them moving on to the ECIC “AA” Championships and the chance to show off their improvement against some of the best swimmers in the area.

“We had some of the best drops in the section at the ‘BB’ meet, so that was huge for these girls’ confidence, having that chance to see the growth in their abilities,” Papke said. “It also showed me further the importance of finding the balance of when to critique and when not to. Fortunately for me, a lot of the girls on the team were friends outside of the pool, too, so they were just naturally positive with one another all the time.”

On the boys side during the winter, positivity came with each meet the combined East-West district team piled up just one year after going winless in its debut season. The team, inspired to succeed thanks to a logo — created by Papke with the help of former combined team member Bobby Breidenstein — that adorned signs and banners throughout the team’s home pool at East Senior, wasted little time in setting a positive tone this winter.

That tone got turned up a few notches on Dec. 13, thanks to the team’s win over Clarence, a program that not only has been a benchmark for many of the ECIC I schools over the years, but was also the program Papke joined for a season as an assistant coach before returning to the district to coach the combined boys squad.

“Beating Clarence at our pool was surprising and a huge turnaround factor this year, too,” Papke said. “It just kept the train rolling all the way through sectionals for us. We had started some new traditions that first year as a combined squad, and the kids were really enthused by them, and then going into this past year there was just a huge explosion of maturity and motivation, and they just seized the moment when they saw it was their turn to step up. Even something as little as cheering for each other, they did it. We had a ton of numbers, too, and it’s incredible what you can do with a lot of athletes who are all motivated and all on the same page.

“Being one combined district wide program, we have the opportunity to get more elite talent involved — and be more successful — than we otherwise would,” Papke continued. “That’s huge considering we’re a team now that’s equivalent in size to a Clarence or Lancaster. Boys on both sides of town understood the opportunity they had in front of them this year, and it was all good. They got along, had fun and were obnoxious together. There was strength in numbers and the guys liked that. They certainly didn’t expect it when I told them they had the opportunity to go .500 this year, so to then go 8-2 put a little more trust in me, I think.”

Papke, who also credited current district athletics director Vincent Dell’Oso in having a considerable role in his decision to come back to coach the boys team, said there wasn’t much difference between coaching the girls and the boys team, and that the main similarity — figuring out the best way to motivate his athletes on each team — was much more apparent.

Papke, who has also been the East modified track coach for the past six years, also noted that he’s been blessed to work in an area that has as many coaches who are passionate about the sport at the high school level as Western New York is.

“I certainly talk to a lot of other area coaches and will bounce things off of them, with one of the bigger times outside of the season being a golf outing where we get together to stay in touch,” Papke said. “Even though we’re all technically competing against each other, we all share the knowledge we have together. I have a lot of books I’ll read — especially over the summer — that can range from being more of a motivational book or a book purely on the sport, and now there’s also Facebook pages to share knowledge. There’s certainly videos available online, and there are plenty of apps, too, to keep up on the latest trends.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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