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Zimmer: Senior coach Klarich goes out on top
JOHN WARNER/Gazette Staff Billings Senior boys tennis coach Dave Klarich poses with the State AA team trophy after Saturday's tournament.

Mike Zimmer

Dave Klarich will have plenty on his daily to-do list next spring.

But for the first time in more than a quarter-century, organizing a practice for the Billings Senior boys tennis team will not be on that list.

"There are other things I like to do, too … I just haven't had time to do them," laughed Klarich on Monday, two days after his Broncs swept the boys singles, doubles and team titles in the State AA tournament.

The State AA finals were held at West High, the school from which Klarich graduated in 1966. It provided a perfect end to a 25-year coaching career at Senior.

"Everything fell into place this year," said Klarich, 56, who retired as a biology and math teacher at Senior five years ago. "The group of seniors on this year's team is a special group … I told myself four years ago that I would go out with them, and I'm sticking to that.

"Twenty-five years is a good number to end on, and it's time for me to move on and do some fly fishing."

On and off the court Klarich first made his name in tennis as a player, reaching the state singles semifinals as a junior and senior at West and occupying the No. 1 singles position at Eastern Montana College (now MSU-Billings) for three years.

As a senior at Eastern, Klarich became the first player in school history to qualify for the NAIA national tournament.

"I went to Kansas City and played the two-time defending champion in the first round," recalled Klarich. "I won the first two games and that was it — he beat me 6-2, 6-0. Those first two games were my moment in the sun."

Klarich brought that same success to his coaching career, which began in 1975. The Broncs won their first state team title in 1977 and won another in 1985 when Ted Smoot became Senior's first state singles champ.

Klarich coached Senior for 18 consecutive years beginning in 1975, then took a pair of two-year breaks during the 1990s.

"I love the game and I love coaching. That's the reason we all do it … it's certainly not for the money," said Klarich, who coached seven doubles champions, two singles champions and three team champions with the Senior boys (plus a girls team title in 1996 while co-coaching with his wife, Liz). "I did not play tennis until my freshman year of high school, but since then it's been a huge part of my life.

"Tennis has opened a lot of doors for me and most of the friendships I've had have come through tennis. It's unbelievable the opponents and kids and parents I've met over the years."

The tennis connection Klarich, who has run Senior's intramural tennis program for the past 29 years and directed various city tennis programs, said he is "continually amazed" at the regularity with which he bumps into those he's met through tennis.

"It's amazing how often you run into them or read their names in tournament results," he said. "So many of the guys that I used to play against or kids that played for me are still playing or coaching.

"Tennis people really do have a neat connection. I read a quote from (professional golfer) Annika Sorenstam comparing tennis to golf. She said in tennis you have to have somebody to play against and in golf, all you need is a course. There really is something to that — the people that play tennis really do connect with each other."

Among those many connections are Senior assistant coach Randy Jacobs, whom Klarich faced in open tournaments in their post-high school days; MSU-Billings coach Jerry Peach, who was a college teammate of Klarich's; and Adam Decker, a state qualifier for the Broncs this year as a freshman and the son of John Decker, who played for Klarich's first team in 1975.

"When you're coaching the kids of guys that you coached," it's time to get out," laughed Klarich.

Lady Rams win Billings Central also had a historic weekend on the courts.

The Central girls captured their first Eastern A divisional team title since 1983 Saturday in Glendive.

The Lady Rams were led by three state qualifiers — ninth-grader Shannon Hatzell, who won the singles title; and sophomores Gena Beckers and Jenna White, who placed fourth in doubles.

Hatzell is a perfect 18-0 in singles matches this season.

Central edged Glendive 33-32 for the girls team title. Glendive's boys cruised to the team title.

The State A tournament is Friday and Saturday in Lewistown.

(Mike Zimmer can be reached at 657-1291 or mzimmer@billingsgazette.com)

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