Bill Sipola molded a team that had great senior leadership, talent and key role players into the area’s best. He coached Okemos to a 25-4 mark and CAAC and regional titles to earn LSJ coach of the year.
The Chiefs’ appearance in the Division 3 quarterfinals this season marked the deepest tournament run for the program since 2000.
“Without him, I don’t know what we would have done,” Okemos senior captain Jake Faustyn said. “This isn’t his first rodeo obviously, and he’s been a coach for 20 years and seen it all. He knows the game. He recognized our potential early and he pushed us.”
Okemos had an 18-game winning streak during the season — Sipola made sure to keep it focused on the goal. That helped as the Chiefs went unbeaten in the CAAC while claiming their first league title since 2007.
“You can get complacent,” Sipola said. “You start winning some games and all of the sudden you don’t think you have to put the work in. The work ethic is the most important obviously. That’s how you got there is by working hard, and you cannot let them forget that. As soon as they do, then it’s too late in the one game knock outs and they don’t skate and they get beat.”
“You never let up on them. You want the same discipline, you want them skating hard no matter if it’s a 7-2 game that you’re winning or it’s a 1-0 game. It’s all relative to how you play and how you practice so that you can continue to get better.”
Besides Sipola’s leadership, the Okemos hockey program has also benefited from its youth hockey program. Several players, such as Faustyn, Anders and many others were part of that youth program and opted to play hockey through the school instead of on travel teams.
“That’s how it starts,” Sipola said of the youth program. “I’ve had many people on the teams that their brothers are watching when they are 11 and 12 and just can’t wait to get on the high school team. That’s what keeps the program going and what’s great about Okemos because we are still single and one school. We’re getting a lot of that from the young kids that go to Okemos schools. They see the high school games and what fun they are and the people that watch and that’s what their goal is.”