A winning combination

Manistee softball coach Paul Maksym is doused with ice water by players after the Chippewas beat Mason County Central in a district championship on Saturday. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

Chippewas perfect in district under Maksym

MANISTEE — It’s 4 p.m. sharp on Monday, and practice is supposed to start for the Manistee softball team. Head coach Paul Maksym isn’t at the field yet, but when he arrives in a hurry two minutes later with a cooler of ice water, he doesn’t find his players dilly-dallying. They’re not gabbing in the dugout or playing with their phones.
The Chippewas had already circled together in the outfield to stretch and are now tossing with partners, all without prompting. Considering Manistee has won four straight Division 3 district titles, that kind of diligence shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neither should it that Maksym, who spent 20 years in the Air Force, can count on his team to follow the path he lays out.
“I guess it’s not so much a discipline as far as being rough, it’s having a structured environment, taking accountability for your actions and responsibility for what you’re doing out there,” Maksym said. “That’s kind of how I’ve always been.”
That’s also been a winning formula for the Chippewas, who have claimed district crowns in each of the three years Maksym has been the head coach, along with 2008, his only year as an assistant.
“I like to succeed, I don’t like to fail — no matter what I put my mind to,” Maksym said. “I hate to lose.”
That hasn’t been too much of a problem for the Chippewas, who have reached the regional round every year he’s been with the team.
“I think we’re all pretty thankful that we’ve had him step in,” said senior first baseman Maeve Lagerquist, “because I definitely wouldn’t want our three years (on the varsity team) to be any different than they have been.”
Maksym was an assistant to Pam Kaminski in 2008 and then took over as head coach the following season, with prior experience coaching youth and travel teams.
“I got to see the higher level of softball and tried to bring that style of aggressiveness to the high school level,” he said, “and it’s worked for us.”
Maksym is quick to credit the work of assistant coaches Steve Bernatche and Gary Cole. Bernatche joined Maksym as an assistant in 2008 and has been with the team since.

“It’s a lot of work to make this thing happen the way it has and it’s almost storybook,” Bernatche said. “I’m just happy that I got to be a part of it. Not only does Paul coach these girls, he’s taught me this game.”
Manistee’s success also depends on a commitment from the players, who know the season starts long before the snow melts or sun hangs in the sky past 6 p.m.
“They know that they’ve got to condition in January and February to start to get ready for the season,” Maksym said. “They know what it takes to have a good team. The girls really got the drive. They’re very inspired. They work hard.”
Maksym acknowledged that his daughter Julia being on the team was part of why he got into coaching. She graduated last year and was part of a talented trio of starters that departed, but Maksym is still on the bucket in the dugout calling pitches and guiding his runners from third base.
“They’re still winning and that’s a good sign,” Maksym said. “We’re losing three seniors this year and we’ve got another whole group coming back, another 10 girls coming back. As long as they can keep circulating the girls through like that, they could have a real good program.”
Manistee will play Kent City in a 10 a.m. regional semifinal on Saturday at Lakeview. The Chippewas have come up short each of the last three years in the quest for a first regional title, but the successes outweigh the setbacks since Maksym came on board.

“We’ve took our losses and our lumps and we deserved it, but I don’t like to lose,” he said. “That’s the mindset I set with these girls — if you work hard, good things happen.”
Maksym asks a lot of his players, as far as commitment and accountability. But the results speak for themselves.
It’s June 6 and school has been out for more than a week. Every other Manistee High School team has also seen its season come to an end. But, the Chippewa softball squad was practicing in the heat Monday afternoon, getting prepared for what’s still ahead.
“He works us hard, but it pays off,” senior catcher Alexa Schneider said of Maksym. “It’s definitely worth it.”

 

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