When Lenny Lee decided it was finally time to start spending more time with his family, he found the perfect situation in which to do it.
After nearly 20 years of nearly constant travel and longer and longer hours working in the energy business on corporate mergers and acquisitions, he recently took an early retirement and moved on to a new passion. Lee is the new coach of the boys varsity tennis team at La Jolla High School, of which his son, junior Theo Lee, is a member.
“I didn’t get to spend as much time with my kids as I’d like,” said Lee, 47, who also has a daughter in the eighth grade “and I had the option to retire early, so I did. This is the perfect time to spend time with my family. It was a good fit.”
Lee didn’t hesitate when asked by former Coach Mike Brown to take over the program this season. He has no prior coaching experience, but he played tennis in high school and college and said he knows most of the players simply from watching his son play through the years.
And high school tennis isn’t quite like football or water polo, sports in which there is a premium placed on instruction and many players are still new to the game when they enter high school. Because tennis focuses so much on the individual and so many of the players work with individual instructors, Lee has been able to simply let the players play.
“My philosophy is that they learn the basic skills and techniques from their private coaches,” Lee said. “Team tennis at the high school level is about bringing together good individual players and getting them to play well together as a team.”
Lee said he has enjoyed the process so far. He said his first goal has been to create effective doubles pairings and ensure that the accomplished singles players he puts together learn to play effective team tennis. After that, he believes the next key to building success on a team level is to coach the more experienced players to help develop the skills and match preparedness of the younger, less seasoned players.
He doesn’t have any assistant coaches, so he relies heavily on those older players.
“This is really a good group of kids we have,” Lee said.
Lee walked into a unique situation at La Jolla this year. The Vikings have won the CIF-San Diego Section Division II team title each of the last seven seasons, and, according to the school’s tennis Web site, have won the title a state-record 40 times since 1955. But because of enrollment changes, La Jolla dropped from Division II to Division III in tennis this season.
In most cases, that would make the Vikings’ road easier, but Lee said Division III actually has more difficult teams.
“They are smaller schools, but there are some better tennis schools,” he said, “so it’s a bit of a challenge for us.”
The Vikings have fared well so far, though, beating Francis Parker (14-1) and La Jolla Country Day (13-5), two of the division’s top teams, and falling to Poway (13-5).
The top part of the Vikings’ schedule features the best teams - though they’ll face La Jolla Country Day again May 3, the final day of the regular season - and Lee has been pleased with how they have played so early in the season.
Lee actually considers this a bit of a rebuilding season for the Vikings, and judging by the numbers, he may be right. Less than half of the team’s roster consists of returning players; the Vikings have five returners and six new players.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the team expects anything less than the success it has put up over the last seven seasons.
“I get some satisfaction out of re-creating and trying to maintain the standard of perfection we’ve had over the years,” Lee said.
He hopes to do that with a lineup that is stronger in doubles but also has a fine complement of singles players. Thomas Keiffer plays the No. 1 singles position, and P.J. Woolley is the No. 2. In doubles, Adam Furman and Trey Van Buskirk are paired at the top of the ladder, followed by Theo Lee and Daniel Lapidus at No. 2. Max Einhorn and Harper Allan have teamed as the No. 3 doubles pairing.
“I’ve been pleased with the results so far,” Lenny Lee said.
Lee is off to a good start, and if the Vikings continue to have success under his leadership, he might just stick around.
“If I’m still having fun at the end of this year and next, it’s definitely a possibility,” Lee said.