Avery Liening is going to be a tennis coach someday.
Not only has she been the Todd Beamer tennis program’s top attraction on the court this season, she is also their most visible advocate.
On the sideline, the Beamer senior cheers on teammates. Off the court, her preseason recruiting has helped bring Beamer’s tennis coach Brent Brilhante back to the program after an eight-year hiatus. Brilhante and Liening’s dedication to the program has the Titans off to a 4-2 start, and the duo has helped create a renewed sense of passion for Beamer tennis.
“She’s really a player-coach for me, an associate head coach as we say in basketball,” Brilhante said. “She’s made coming back a lot of fun, easy. This is a really a great group of kids we have.”
NOT AN EASY JOB
Two days before the tennis program was scheduled to host team tryouts at the end of February, it encountered a problem. It had no coach to lead it.
So, as any good coach would do, Liening went on the recruiting trail.
“That was hard,” Liening said. “I was literally running around school finding random people, teachers, anyone who would listen.”
At one point, teammates suggested Liening “coach” the tryouts — design drills for girls to do and pick the best players.
But that wasn’t allowed, so the search continued.
Liening was sold on Brilhante when she, somewhat on accident, caught Brilhante and assistant coach Brett Lucas in the middle of a highly competitive tennis match in the gym one afternoon.
“I looked at them, and it looked as though they’d been playing for years,” Liening said. “They really look like they know what they’re doing.”
Brilhante coached the Titans’ tennis program from 2006 to 2009. When he heard about the tennis team’s desperate state, he jumped right back in.
“I’m just glad that Mr. Brilhante stepped in,” Liening said. “I don’t think he has a ton of tennis experience, but he’s a natural coach. He’s got the right attitude.”
When Brilhante took over the tennis program this season, he didn’t know a single girl on the roster.
The bad weather, which often restricts teams from practicing outdoors, has paid off.
Brilhante has gotten to know each member of the team during what has become regular, close-quartered gym practices. The first thing the postseason-experienced basketball coach noticed was a lack of structure. There was no plan, no system, no organized drills.
He put a stop to that immediately.
“We started right away,” Brilhante said. “I had drills ready. They broke a sweat the first day of tryouts, that’s for sure.”
Just like his basketball program, Brilhante’s tennis team now has specific pre-match routines it follows.
Brilhante’s newly formed structure also gave way to prime opportunities for him to allow his associate coach to hone her coaching skills.
“So far she’s run drills for me,” he said. “She’ll get the (indoor) courts set up. She’ll get the girls set up and ready to go.”
Liening said she felt herself transition into a teaching role during her sophomore season. This has helped her because, she said, it has forced her to look at the sport with a new approach.
As a result, Liening has had a lot of fun figuring out how she can help Brilhante ease back into coaching tennis.
“He’s such a coach,” Liening said. “He picks it up so fast, and it’s fun to watch him get so involved.”
With new routines and Brilhante’s goal to build a thriving tennis program at Beamer, Liening said she considers him a coaching mentor.
She has paid close attention to his coaching style, which is drastically different from former girls tennis coach Patrick Nam’s style.
Brilhante brings his boisterous basketball voice and mentality, which is uncommon in an otherwise quiet sport. The change in style has intrigued Liening’s inner-coaching bug.
“Typically, if our old coach was going to be loud, it wasn’t until after a match, but you can hear [Brilhante] loud and clear all throughout the match,” Liening said. “It’s actually been really great because it’s so different.”
Brilhante said Liening’s coaching imprint on the team was evident from day one.
“Since the first day of tryouts, their attitudes [have] been great,” Brilhante said. “They’ve just been excited to get out here. An attitude like that doesn’t come from nowhere. She’s played a major role in that development.”
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Liening comes from a tennis family. Her older sister played Division I tennis at Eastern Washington University.
Liening has represented Beamer at the state tournament all three years.
She’ll likely make it four years this season.
To accomplish that, along with playing for Beamer and club tennis, Liening joined a 4.5 women’s league team, which is for women between the ages of 27-50.
“It’s been a really great experience,” Liening said. “You get to hang out with all kinds of people. It’s fun. A lot of them have kids my age, so we’re all really comfortable.”
Liening said it’s also given her the opportunity to do some additional coaching.
Between playing for the Titans and her outside club, the new league has tested her time management skills – important in coaching.
And she’s had the opportunity to provide technical tennis instruction to women with a wide range of ages and skill sets – also critical in coaching.
While Liening may not be focused on coaching tennis at this moment, Brilhante said “Coach Liening” is a matter of when, not if. He would know, as he’s been coached by prominent basketball names, such as Jared Mentink and Kevin Olsen.
“She’s just naturally got all the intangibles that make a great coach,” Brilhante said. “I hope she keeps at it because she’s a great leader with the perfect attitude for coaching.”