DELANO – For 25 years, there’s only been one face leading the way for the Delano girls tennis program. Coach Kim Finn has walked the courts for the Tigers for the past 25 years and after being honored for her commitment and dedication to the program, she announced this season will be her last.
“It’s time,” Finn said about the decision. “I always go off of what Pav (Merrill Pavlovich) said that you’ll just know when it’s time to move on. I’ll be done, but it’s not like I won’t be here. The amount of work it takes to be a head coach and run a program is a lot. That part of it, I won’t miss. If I could just come out here and coach, I would do it for the rest of my life.”
Finn took control of the Delano girls tennis program back in 1999 when she moved into town. Things didn’t start easy for her and the team. The team often played only a handful of matches all season long against non-varsity teams and there were no offseason programs for athletes to work on or develop their skills.
“When I started, our varsity program would play everyone else’s JV team because that’s how bad we were,” Finn said. “We might have been lucky to have six matches. We knew we had to start playing more. Most of the girls put their rackets away in October and then didn’t pick them up again until August. We built that summer program and that’s where things turned around.”
Finn was the fourth coach in the past four years to take over the program. She would be the only coach for the next 25 years as she built the program from the ground up. In 2006, Finn helped lead the program to its first-ever state tournament appearance where the Tigers finished in fourth place. The following year was a tough one but the Tigers took on the challenge of moving up a class. Despite getting off to a slow start, Finn came into the 2023 season with a win percentage over 80 percent.
“In the spring of 2007, we were moved to class AA because we had 14 more students enrolled in our district to make the Class A cut-off,” Finn said. “We did not let this get us down. We played teams that were three or four times our size. We decided that the Wright County Conference Championships would be our state tournament.”
Following the move to Class AA, the Tigers went undefeated in conference play for 11 years in a row. In 2015, the road to the state tournament got even harder after being placed in Section 5AA among the top programs in the state (Wayzata, Maple Grove, Champlin Park, St. Michael-Albertville, Rogers) but the Tigers were once again up to the challenge. Under Finn’s leadership, Delano knocked off Wayzata to reach the state tournament in 2015. The Tigers made it to state once again in 2016 and have been in the semifinals or section final in each of the past three seasons.
“For a small town the size of Delano to accomplish this means that there are a lot of dedicated athletes that work hard to continue the tradition of a great team,” Finn said.
Why coach for 25 years?
Tennis has always been a passion for Finn. It’s a unique sport in which she can coach things that not only apply to the game itself but to life as well.
“I continued to coach throughout 25 years because I love the sport of tennis and I am happy to share that love with anyone that wants to learn how to play,” she said. “The other aspect of coaching is being a mentor for student-athletes. Teaching them and coaching them to be a better person on and off the court. I show them how to use their strengths to bring out the best in them. The confidence to always strive to do better.”
Confidence is a recurring word surrounding the Delano program. It goes beyond what happens on the court for Finn.
“Tennis isn’t just for athletes,” Finn said. “It’s for anybody. That’s what I love about it. I just want to bring out the best in everybody and give them that confidence and let them know they can do it. I want them to know when they get older and into their careers they remember that confidence I try to instill in them. I have seen many abilities of athletes throughout the last 25 years and what continues to bring me back is the success of each and every player I have coached. Not only on the court but also in their life.”
The idea of tennis is for everyone has been on display in the program for the past two decades. The numbers in the program have grown over the years and more and more athletes are sticking to it and finding success under Finn’s leadership.
“I love watching girls that aren’t three-sport athletes and who are probably more of a bookworm,’ she said. “I’ve seen it change their confidence in their athleticism and just in life. You just have to put the time in and they have. When you have the confidence and want to work hard, that’s what I love about coaching. It’s fun to coach competitive athletes that think they can do it and then you watch them grow and succeed. It’s an awesome thing to be a part of.”
A coach everyone wants to play for
It’s been three years since Maria Molitor has played for coach Finn. That doesn’t change the impact she had on her.
Molitor was one of many alumni hanging around the match Thursday knowing the team and program would honor coach Finn. It was important for her to be there knowing how much she’s meant to her tennis career and beyond that.
“She taught me what it looks like to be a strong female leader, to never give up on and off the court, to dig deep, and to work hard,” Molitor said. “I could confidently give 100 percent every match because I knew the high standards she had set for me. I admire and respect her coaching style and the dedication she displays to every part of your life.”
Now a member of the St. Cloud State University tennis team, Molitor has caught the itch to get into coaching herself because of Finn.
“She has been a role model and mentor to me through my years,” Molitor said. “I aspire to someday be as successful as her in coaching and to impact women athletes’ lives the way she has impacted mine. I am so thankful for all she has done for me and the sport of tennis.”
Molitor is just one of many lives that Finn has touched throughout her coaching career.
“I haven’t even been alive for 25 years so it is crazy to imagine all the players she has coached, matches she has watched, and lives she has impacted,” Molitor said. “The lessons she taught us on the court carry out into everyday life. She is a woman of high character and very humble about her accomplishments. We had a great time celebrating her. She deserves a lot of thanks and celebration from our community. We aren’t done celebrating yet, as we know she will stay involved to ensure the continued success of the program.”
Kelly Holmgren, a former player for Finn and now an assistant coach for her, also has felt the support and encouragement she brings to not only her players but everyone she comes in contact with.
“Delano has been very lucky to have a coach like her,” Holmgren said. “She is one of a kind. She has put her heart and soul into this program for 25 years. She is constantly working on ways to improve this program and keep it going. I’m very fortunate to have played for her and now I’m very blessed to get to coach with her.”
Leaving her mark
The 2023 season will mark the end of an impressive coaching career for Finn but she won’t be forgotten. Members of the program along with alumni surprised her with a bench and plaque alongside the tennis courts that will serve as a reminder to all who built this program into what it is today.
“Since she built this program from the ground up, we wanted to put something in the ground to honor her,” Holmgren said. “Anyone who enters these courts or uses the area will be able to recognize her now.”
“She showcases what it means to be a strong woman athlete and that’s really important in today’s age,” Molitor added. “She fights for what she wants and teaches you to go for everything 100 percent on and off the court. Her dedication has really built this program into what it is today and we couldn’t be more thankful for her.”
The bench symbolizes Finn’s commitment and dedication to the program throughout her 25 years of coaching.
“This really means a lot to me,” Finn said. “I appreciate all the support. It has gone by very fast. I enjoy it immensely. This is my life, but sometimes you get tired. Going out at 25 years is better than going out at 26 or 27 years.”