June 2, 2014

New coach eager to return to court

When David Hilley stepped down as the head coach for boys and girls tennis at Dalton High School following this season, he did a couple of favors for Jordan Widelock, who has since filled the vacancy.

First, Hilley vouched for Widelock as a favorable choice to replace him. Second, after 12 seasons as head coach, Hilley left the program in good shape — with players who expect to succeed and do so more often than not, something shown by an appearance in the state tournament each season under Hilley for both the Cata-mounts and Lady Cats.

Dalton athletic director Jeff McKinney said Widelock “came highly recommended by coach Hilley.”

“He’s very knowledgeable about tennis and he already knows coach Hilley’s system and they know each other,” McKinney said. “So it’s going to be a very good transition for our kids.”

Widelock, 31, met Hilley while competing in tennis leagues in Chattanooga after Widelock and his wife Talla, a medical resident at Erlanger Medical Center, moved to Tennessee two years ago.

Widelock took a job teaching biology at Morris Innovative High School last year. He will remain in that job at the fellow Dalton Pub-lic Schools institution this year.

When Hilley knew he wouldn’t be coaching beyond this season (although he remains a math teacher at Dalton High School), he passed along Widelock’s name.

For that, Widelock is grateful.

“I knew when I started teaching that I would like to coach,” he said. “I enjoyed the game a lot and I enjoyed my time coaching, and so when the opportunity came, I kind of went running toward it. It was something I looked forward to.”

Widelock was a four-year varsity tennis player at Bakersfield (Calif.) High School and received college scholarship offers, although he turned them down because he had ambitions of becoming a doctor and wanted to focus on academics. While medical school ended up not being in his future, there was plenty of studying as Widelock graduated from the University of Judaism in Los Angeles before going on to graduate school at the University of Southern California (where he studied education) and California’s San Joaquin College of Law.

Along the way, he also gained experience as a tennis coach, working as an assistant at Bakersfield College and a private youth coach.

As he returns to the court, he takes over knowing there are big expectations at Dalton — Hilley won 313 total matches and led each team as deep as the state quarterfinals at least once — but he’s looking forward to making his own imprint on the program.

“I feel like I have big shoes to fill,” Widelock said. “Coach Hilley was a great coach and he did a lot for that program, and coming in to try to compete with that I think is going to be very difficult. So I think maybe my focus should be not to compete with that and maybe forge something we can do as a team moving forward.”

Both Dalton teams finished second in Region 7-4A this past season and advanced to the second round of the Class 4A state tournament before falling to eventual champion Marist. The Cats’ starting lineup was hit heavily by graduation, but the Lady Cats return most of their top talent. Dalton is moving to Class 5A for the next two years, though, so Widelock’s hire isn’t the only adjustment for the teams.

As for Widelock, he’s looking forward to evaluating players and figuring out strengths and weaknesses to start the work of shaping the program as a whole. He said he’ll work to make sure doubles play isn’t overlooked and try to balance an emphasis on skill and fitness for all of his players.

“Pooping out in the third set means a loss,” Widelock said. “But if you don’t have the technique to get that far in the match, then fitness isn’t going to matter.”

McKinney believes there’s a good combination in the works with the standard set by Hilley and what Widelock will bring to the program.

“Our kids have a great background tennis and the community does, too,” McKinney said.

“There’s a good group of people in Dalton who really enjoy tennis and it’s going to keep it going in our school system. Coach Hilley had nearly 90 players in his program this year ... (Widelock) is not starting in a building process. He’s got a good group to work with.”

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