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New coach set to give 'Cats boost

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002

If girls basketball is the next sport to take off at Wesley Chapel, Mark Kopp will be the coach who gives the Wildcats their first taste of success.

"I'm incredibly excited," said Kopp, a 31-year-old social studies teacher who came to the school this summer from Waverly, Ohio. "I think it's a great opportunity. I've taken over some losing teams before, and bringing it all together, that's the fun of coaching."

Wesley Chapel enjoyed breakout seasons last year in football and boys basketball, among others, but the girls basketball team has improved on a slower curve. It took the Wildcats until their third season to win a game, and last year they finished with three victories.

"Winning three games in three years, there's nowhere to go but up," said Kopp, who didn't coach basketball the past two seasons, focusing instead on tennis. Kopp worked six years as a girls basketball assistant and has coached junior high teams. Athletic director Annie McGhee said she has liked the enthusiasm she has seen from Kopp in his first month on campus and expects him to do well in taking over for Shelley Carrino. She guided the program for two seasons before switching to junior varsity volleyball this year.

"He's been helping us out a lot already, volunteering as announcer for the varsity football games," McGhee said of Kopp. "We're glad to have him on our staff."

Practice won't start until Nov. 4, but Kopp is having a sign-up meeting Tuesday. Nearly all of last year's players return for Wesley Chapel, which lost center Jamie Freund and guard Emily Conklin to graduation.

Kopp says he will enter tryouts with an open mind and no fears about putting younger players on the court.

"With a new coach, it's like a clean slate for everyone, and I've told them that the top 10 of 12 -- no matter what year they are -- are going to be the ones that play for me," he said.

Kopp said he wants aggressive play on both ends of the floor and a high-pressure defense.

"I have a pretty simple philosophy: we like to run a lot of motion in our offense, and I like to press and press, then press some more," Kopp said. "If they break our press, they'll get an aggressive man-to-man defense. I'd like to think we'll have some good athletes, so the whole thing is taking good athletes and teaching them aggressive defense."

Kopp welcomes the challenge awaiting him. "I want to bring some enthusiasm. I want to develop some pride in this program."

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