Team leader: Kentala named Division 4 Coach of the Year

Adam Niemi/For the Gazette Dollar Bay head coach Jesse Kentala yells to his team during a MHSAA Division 4 state semifinal against Southfield Christian at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

DOLLAR BAY — A year after losing four starters off a state semifinalist squad, including of his school’s top scorers of all time, Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Blue Bolts coach Jesse Kentala was named Coach of the Year after taking another team just as far this season.

Kentala, who completed his 12th year at the helm of the Blue Bolts a couple of weeks ago with a loss to Southfield Christian, is quick to attribute his success to the culture he and his players have built over the past several seasons.

Earlier in the week, Kentala was also named to the All-State Second Team as well.

“It’s an honor,” said Kentala. “If I am going to give anybody credit, I have a team of three other guys, three other coaches who help, Jake Stevens, our (junior varsity) coach, Aaron Janke, and Wayne Laitala. They are unpaid assistants and they are there, every step of the way at every film session and every practice.”

Kentala calls coaching the Blue Bolts a “team effort.” Considering the volume of what he had to replace going into 2018-19, it makes sense.

“I know that is the thing you are supposed to say, but it really is a team effort and I cannot do it without those guys,” Kentala said.

Dollar Bay has come a long way since Kentala started calling the shots. His early years featured a pair of one-win seasons. Changing the culture was something that he knew he would have to do if he had any hopes of building a winning program at one of the smallest public schools in the state.

“It was hard,” he said, “hard to change that mentality. It was a difficult thing to do. Credit to the kids who worked so hard. They put in the effort.”

It would have been easy for the Blue Bolts to fall back into those losing ways this season, considering the fact that they lost so much off of a team that lost only one game in 2017-18, but Kentala credited his players and his staff with not being satisfied with just being an also-ran this season. The group cares about team success above all else.

“One of the things that our kids buy into is that the team supersedes the individual,” he said. “The kids have bought into that it’s about team, not about individual, because it is a team sport.”

Early in the season, the Blue Bolts, who finished with a record of 21-5, struggled to figure out their identity.

“What is so awesome…is that really, success breeds success,” said Kentala. “There is talent here. We knew there was talent here. We knew there would be some roadblocks along the way.”

What makes Dollar Bay basketball so special, in Kentala’s eyes, is the fact that team has bonded in much the way a family does. Some of the Blue Bolts’ top players this year either had brothers who had already played and graduated, others had siblings on the team this year. Kentala believes that the word family is really the best way to describe his tight-knit group.

“The guys truly know that I care, and the rest of the coaching staff cares about them, not just as basketball players, but also as students,” he said. “We care about them as people. If kids don’t think you care about them, they are not going to give you their best effort. I think that is Step One.

“Step Two is once they know that you care about them, and they trust that, as a coaching staff, we are doing everything we can, then as players they are doing everything that they can. That’s when the fun starts happening.”

Kentala said that despite how hard they work in practice and how hard they all can be on each other during games, at the end of the day, he can sit down with his team and just talk.

“At the end of the day, we all sit around and we pull up chairs,” he said. “We talk and joke after practice…just enjoying each other’s company.”