The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


April 3, 2014

One for the ages

Compan, Lakers made history

Pymatuning Valley girls basketball coach Jeff Compan believes in family. It’s evident in the way he is greeted by his family as he heads to the locker following each of the Lakers’ home games. That, however, is only half of the picture.

The rest of the picture is how he applies those beliefs to the way he runs his program. The Lakers aren’t just the players under Compan’s direction. They’re members of his family.

“We bring the girls over here for team-bonding things,” Compan said. “It’s important in battle to have each other’s backs. It’s been a while since we’ve had a group who didn’t get along. We have the over for pizza or go bowling and every time 75 percent of them show. You can never get all of them together because they always have something going on.

“It’s a fun group.”

And as a group, the Lakers had fun in every sense of the word. They won the Northeastern Athletic Conference championship in finishing the regular season unbeaten and claimed the top spot in the Associated Press Division III Poll to close the season. They won 25 straight games to reach the regional tournament at Cuyahoga Falls and in the process won more games in a season than any other Pymatuning Valley team ever had.

Accomplishing those feats will always be important to Compan, Star Beacon Ashtabula County Coach of the Year. He is a competitor, after all. But what he will remember most are the moments those accomplishments were wrapped in.

“I’ll remember the smiles,” he said. “I don’t remember a team laughing and smiling the way this team did. Winning is fun. When you win 25 games, the girls will smile a lot. The season is a drudgery. Sometimes you can call out a drill and by January you’ve done it so many times the girls will go through the motions.

“These girls found a way to have fun every day and to laugh every day, but they did it with a purpose. This group smiled through and even enjoyed the most menial drills. I’ll remember that more than anything. It was a fun 6 months with them.”

That Compan even had the opportunity to enjoy those months with his team is a compliment to his wife, Emily, and his kids, McCamey, 5, Rylan, 4, and the twins, Cooper and Tucker, 21 months.

“(Emily) is the biggest supporter,” Compan said. “I broke down at the banquet I said (for the team) to thank her because every season I ask her if it’s OK if I coach again. Without her blessing, I wouldn’t be chasing my dream.”

The Lakers themselves understand they aren’t just players on Compan’s team. And they take an active role in the family.

“My kids love coming to the games. The girls love my kids and they love my wife. Earlier (Tuesday) night, Geena (Gabriel) and Taylor (Lipinsky) were here. They came over and baby-sat so I could take Emily out to dinner. They helped us put the kids to bed then sat and talked with us a while.

“There’s a special bond you develop with the kids. You grow close to them. Having a year like this makes all the time away from the wife and kids worthwhile.”

It was only fitting that the Compan kids celebrated with their “sisters” following the district championship game in Ravenna.

“My kids wear their district championship medals and say, ‘Look what my dad gave me!’ Compan said. “My son dropped the championship trophy on the bus. It’s the first district championship trophy in team history and my son dropped it on the bus. It was only fitting. It was perfect.”

Compan’s family doesn’t end with the players, however. It extends to his coaching staff, as well.

“Steve (Urchek) is different than any assistant coach I’ve had before,” Compan, who was the catcher for Urchek while the pair were in high school at Maplewood, said. “He’s the most prepared. He’s always looking 2 games ahead. I told him I don’t even want to hear about or think about anything other than today.

“When somebody goes to watch so-and-so play, they report back to him. He comes up and says if we need a last-second play, here’s a last-second play we can use. He’s an enthusiastic coach and that has a big effect on me.”

Then there was Urchek’s predecessor, Melody Nowakowski.

“She was the good cop,” Compan joked. “When I’d yell at them, they’d go over to her and she’d say I was a jerk and not to listen to me.”

The coaching staff doesn’t end there, however.

“(The assistants) have meant a lot to the program,” Compan said. “As a head coach, you get a lot of the credit. But the junior high and 4th-, 5th- and 6th-grade coaches are the ones who get everything started years before the girls get to me. I get the credit for all the work they do.

“It seems unfair to me. The junior high coaches work just as hard as I do. I like to think it’s a group effort. Most of the girls are complete players when they come to me. They do a good job getting me kids I can work with.”

And those kids that Compan gets are smart, hard-working girls. Compan has been quick all season to deflect any credit for the Lakers’ success right back at his troops.

“You’re only as good as the kids you have,” he said. “Like I tell the girls, I can only push them as hard as they’ll let me. If I shove them and they give a shove back, it’s not going to work. The team allowed me to push them.

“When we added things, they picked them up. When we put in special plays for special games, they learned them and executed them well. Then we’d not use it for weeks and come back to it later and say, ‘You remember that play?’ They’d say, ‘Oh, yeah.’ The basketball intelligence this team had was best I’ve had as a coach. It makes it so much easier to coach.”

Compan is right in the sense that a coach is only as good as the players under his command. However, a great coach finds a way to mold and shape his team to be those kinds of players that make the coach look good. Compan did that in spades with the 2013-14 Pymatuning Valley Lakers.

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at

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