Vows that created a winning culture

Nov 2, 2015

HASLETT – Five years ago, Henry and Samantha Brunnschweiler said their marriage vows. Their decision to share their lives also included sharing head coaching the Haslett High School tennis program.

If you were to measure the success of their marriage, both the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams at Haslett High School have taken home the regional championship for five years in a row. 

In 2007, Samantha and Henry attended the same regional seed meeting, where all coaches go to rank each tennis player. Samantha was coaching for a high school in Bay City, Michigan and Henry was coaching at Haslett. Three years later, Samantha and Henry were married and creating a winning culture in the Haslett tennis program. 

Samantha and Henry with their son, Diego.

  “We are better together than we were individually,” Samantha said.

Henry said she is one of the reasons Haslett has had improvements. He played at the prep level and has been coaching for about 20 years. Samantha competed at Saginaw Valley State University and has been coaching a few years short of Henry.

Both Henry and Samantha said they try to enforce consistency each year through summer camps, establishing specific traditions, and remaining visible throughout the community.

Although they agree on team goals, their coaching styles are quite opposite.

Henry is enthusiastic, a motivator, and has a ton of energy.

“You can hear Henry on all 11 courts,” she said.

Samantha is more into the technique, mental strategy, and the connection between players.

The idea of “opposites attract” proves true in two different approaches to coaching. Henry weaknesses are Samantha’s strengths and vice-versa.

“Henry and Samantha are wonderful people,” Emmy Virkus, former Haslett High School and current Michigan State University tennis player, said. “I will always look at Henry as the goofy, fun-loving coach that showed me that there is more to tennis than winning, and see Sam as a tremendous and intelligent figure as well.”

Henry and Samantha were people who she heavily relied on and she credits each of them for her passion to continue tennis at the college level, said Virkus.

One of their secrets to success is that they are well respected and consistently visible within the community, Henry said. Henry is a teacher at Haslett Middle School and Samantha is a counselor at the high school.

“We know them (players) outside of courts … We know them as people too,” Samantha said.

“My time on the Haslett tennis team was truly a special four-year experience for me that I will cherish forever,” Virkus said.

Creating a culture of tradition amongst players is difficult to continue amongst teams, Henry said. But the Brunnschweiler’s have more time together than other coaches and they talk strategies and bounce ideas off each other during dinner, he said. 

“The team environment was a perfect culture between an appropriate amount of grit and competitive fire,” Virkus said.

Perhaps it is because Henry and Samantha have decided to do something that most high schools do not do. They are a no cut program, averaging 20 to 25 players on the team each year.

It is important for each player to understand their role, Henry said.

The 2015 Haslett boys tennis team.

“Things can get tricky trying to pick 12 starters, but it is something my wife and I work hard at,” he said.  

A specific tradition is the girls’ team kissing a plastic rat before each competition as superstition. Virkus said the rat’s name is Templeton and the team passes him down the lineup for each girl to “air kiss” him.

Both Henry and Samantha said they credit Virkus as one of the players who got this program going.

The boys’ tennis team placed sixth at the state meet, the highest in school history. Johnny Choi, senior tennis player, is the first player to be rewarded first team all-state at the conclusion of his final season. “I was very pleased,” Henry said.

He told his players at regionals that he would include his effort as well, Henry said. “I want you to play your tails off and I will coach my tail off,” he said.

Samantha sees their tennis program as being more than wins and losses – it is a learning experience for the long run

“It is not just about regional titles. Tennis is a life-long sport and we are teaching you a lifelong skill. That is far more than any championship you can win,” Samantha said.