NEW PALESTINE — Des Evans loves to win, but it’s how you do it that holds the most significance to the veteran coach.
When Evans took over the New Palestine boys and girls tennis programs in 2015, he brought with him a coaching philosophy centered around sportsmanship, respect and hard work.
He called it “creating a winning culture,” and as he prepares to step down as head coach at New Palestine this spring, Evans believes his players and teams both followed the plan perfectly.
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“I’m very happy with the way it went,” Evans remarked. “I’m very proud of what they’ve done the past three years. I’m happy with the progress.”
After the conclusion of the girls tennis season in 2018, Evans intends to officially resign. He informed New Palestine Athletics Director Al Cooper of his decision earlier this month.
Evans, who is an instructor at the Indianapolis Racquet Club, plans to reinvest his full-time commitment where he’s spent nearly 20 years as a coach.
“It’s been difficult for awhile. To do the New Pal job, I’ve had to sacrifice work at the club,” Evans explained. “But I’ve enjoyed it. The other thing was the travel, 22 miles there and 22 miles back every day. It was often a strain. That was difficult.”
Prompted by the parents to take over the Dragons tennis programs after the resignation of former head coach Chris Hardin in 2015, Evans had the task of maintaining a winning tradition at New Palestine.
In his three short years, he’s lived up to expectations.
Evans entered the situation with some familiarity, coaching countless youth and high school tennis players from the region, including several from Doe Creek Middle School and New Palestine High School.
His prior relationships with some of his players helped the Zimbabwe native, who emigrated to the United States in 2000, ease the transition while starting a new era built upon prior successes.
Under Hardin’s leadership, the boys team won three consecutive sectional titles and five straight Hancock County championships in nine seasons.
The Dragons’ sectional championship run with Hardin began in 2008 with a string of three consecutive and resumed after a brief hiatus in 2011 with another three in a row to increase the school’s overall total to 13 titles since 1992.
Evans added to the totals with three more county championships for eight in a row and three consecutive sectional titles to extend the streak to six straight and 16th all time.
While Evans’ Dragons couldn’t quite match Hardin’s regional semifinal win in 2014, the boys team achieved a different feat this fall by winning the program’s first Hoosier Heritage Conference in a decade.
The Dragons end the 2017 campaign 19-5 and the outright HHC champs. They narrowly lost to Lawrence North 3-2 in the team regional semifinals this past October.
“I focused a lot on mental toughness and giving yourself a margin for error and being able to absorb the pressure in a big match,” Evans said. “I thought they did well in that regard, and I hope they continue to do that. I think I prepared them well for that and not being afraid to lose. To be able to go and play the game and do your best without having to worry about failure.”
The Dragons rarely fell short, defeating HHC rival Delta in August to end the Eagles’ prolific conference winning streak. Delta’s boys and girls programs had won 100 straight HHC matches, dating back to 2000 — the longest in history — before the Dragons prevailed 3-2.
New Palestine beat six HHC schools 5-0 to accumulate a 33-2 record in the conference. Six players were recognized by the HHC and Evans was named the league’s coach of the year.
The Dragons were 19-4 in 2016 and 20-2-1 in Evans’ first season.
The girls team went 11-7 last spring, advancing Josie King and Katie Settergren into the individual state tournament at No. 1 doubles. The team finished 4-9 in 2015.
Evans’ accomplishments reached beyond wins and losses as well, Mt. Vernon head coach Gabe Muterspaugh said referring to the etiquette the Dragons’ coach brought to the county’s tennis landscape.
With the Marauders and Dragons rivalry often brimming over to extreme levels in the past, Evans and Muterspaugh worked collectively to tone down the animosity.
“I give a ton of credit to Des because he reached out to me, and we had a good conversation. He was the one, and don’t get me wrong, he’s about as competitive of a coach that I’ve gone against in all my years of coaching and I love and respect that, but he bridged the gap,” Muterspaugh said. “He’s the one that got us to the point where we were going to go out there and battle, but we were going to do it the right way.”
On-court celebrations and unsportsmanlike antics were all but eliminated the past three seasons under Evans, which helped the two foes develop a respect for each other. Several Marauders players have even worked at IRC with Evans the past few years.
“It’s fun to play them again. Our kids used to get so worked up on both sides that it wasn’t fun, and he really did a great job of bridging that,” Muterspaugh said.
Evans is looking forward to his final season with the girls team, which has seen an increase in participation each year since he arrived. Purposely involving the girls players as team managers for the boys in the fall, the group’s dedication to improvement has accelerated.
With additional offseason training for both the boys and the girls, Evans hopes the trend will continue for the Dragons after he leaves.
“I promised [Al Cooper] I wouldn’t just leave him in the the lurch, so I’m going to finish up the girls season,” Evans said. “They have a lot of fun out there.
“We do have groups of New Pal kids at IRC, and we want to try to keep those going because I think that sort of culture and competition has helped the program a lot,” Evans said.