When looking at a coaching career that spans 36 years, there are going to be countless challenges, opportunities, highs and lows, as well as unique people and memories. From jumping headfirst into coaching girls tennis to finishing up a legendary career, Linda Seaver experienced every aspect of joy, pain and camaraderie that can be shared among generations of girls that played parts in her Le Sueur-Henderson tennis program.
“There was never any thought that I would be coaching tennis for 36 years,” said Seaver. “It goes to show how much I loved it and how great the community, kids and families were.”
The journey to become the face of tennis at LS-H began humbly after Seaver finished her college degree in teaching from Bethel College in St. Paul. After graduating, she knew she wanted to coach, and when she met with Le Sueur-Henderson athletic director Bruce Frank, he said what they needed at the time was a girls tennis coach, a sport which Seaver had little to no connection with.
However, she had a phenomenal resource in former boys tennis coach Tim Templeton, who made himself available as an assistant from day one until his passing in 2009.
“They really wanted a tennis coach, and Tim was very reassuring that he would help me with the skills and strategy,” said Seaver. “I had a teaching degree and a love of caring for kids and challenging them.”
That desire to compete and to build a sense of teamwork connected with her tennis players early, and wherever there was a smaller degree of tennis knowledge, Seaver more than made up for it with the bonds she forged with her players.
“I was very up front with them about [my lack of experience],” she said. “I think anytime you’re honest with kids, they’re a lot more accepting and forgiving.”
She added, “The relationships with the kids was the defining moment for me each year that showed me that the families supported us and the kids were always willing to work hard.”
With individuals qualifying for state, and Minnesota River Conference titles becoming a norm for the program, Seaver continued to build relationships with families in the community.
“As a coach, you always have a group of kids that keep you invested,” said Seaver. “Three Wilson kids over 12 years; the Sinells for 12 years, 16 years for the Brandt family; and currently the Nesbit family. I just think how lucky am I to be able to maintain that connection and see them grow up and mature while still being a part of their lives.”
Seaver long ago cemented herself as a fixture of the program. Year after year, coming back to teach and motivate, forming new families with new teams of players. Jennifer Wilson played for Seaver from 1996 to 2001 and later came back to coach with her for 10 years.
“Linda was a coach at all levels,” Wilson said. “She could be your friend if you needed, but she was more of a mentor and a guide, a moral compass.”
But the journey, as all great ones are, wouldn’t be without its challenges, and the 2013-14 years proved to be the most challenging stretch of Seaver’s tenure. It began with the sudden passing of assistant coach Terry Penland who had begun assisting with the program a year before Templeton’s passing.
All of a sudden, Seaver was responsible for not only keeping her girls in the right mindset to make it through each day, but to also keep moving forward and using Penland’s motto of “no worries.” The healing began. A pivotal part of that was co-captain Katelyn Hank who used her own personal motto of “We got this” to reassure her teammates.
However, disaster struck once again when Hank passed away in December as the result of a tragic sledding accident. Now a leader of the team and of their recovery process was also gone, and it fell upon the shoulders of Seaver to keep the ship on the right course.
Seaver, already close with her players, became more important to her team than ever before. She didn’t back down or wilt at the adversity. Instead, she stepped up more, brought the girls together and made sure they supported one another.
“You laugh, you cry, you remember,” Seaver said in 2015. “You just try to let them be kids.”
As she supported her players, Seaver received support from her loved ones.
“My family helped to navigate that period,” said Seaver, speaking of her son Nick and three daughters Sandra, Lyndsey and Erin, as well as her husband Dean. “They have always have been super involved and supportive and my husband has always been an incredible sounding board.”
Since that tragic fall and winter, the team has used a combination of both Penland and Hank’s mottos as the calling card of the program, and before each meet, everyone present has heard their words ring out across the courts.
“No worries; we got this.”
While Seaver may not be the one to say it, her presence always meant so much.
“She really holds us all together,” said Katherine Cronk, a senior during the 2015 season.
Help along the way
Seaver credits her phenomenal assistants for ensuring that the team has always stayed on point and made sure to recognize her assistants and volunteers over the years for helping her to get the best out of the girls.
Tim Templeton, Terry and Janet Penland, Kathy and Ginger Nesbit, and Bailey Plonske have all served, not only the tennis program and Seaver, but all the girls on the various teams.
“The kids needed the stability and compassion while still being challenged,” said Seaver. “It really was a defining moment for the program, but since then, all of my volunteers have showed up all the time and given their all.”
When it comes to pinning down a single moment of reverence or a career highlight, Seaver found the task nearly, if not entirely, impossible.
“When I look over the program achievements from banquet, it’s hard to just pinpoint one, because each one, in their own right, are all different,” she said. “It’s always an honor to be named conference coach of the year or section coach of the year, to be recognized by peers, but there really isn’t just one moment that stands above the rest.”
That said, she was able to add how important it was to have the opportunity to coach her three daughters, Sandra, Lyndsey and Erin.
With her legacy cemented, and the program as much a staple of the Le Sueur-Henderson community as any athletic team can be, Seaver just had one last thing to say to those she’s coached the families and community that has supported her.
“Just thank you — for letting me be a part of their lives, their growing up, and for allowing them to encourage me.”