Former Mundelein star lands Wauconda job
Clay Kovac knows little about Wauconda's baseball history.
Warren's pitching coach last year does know about near no-no. The Blue Devils' 32-5 2019 team almost got no hits against a Wauconda pitcher. Markus Keller scattered 3 hits and struck out 12 in 5⅔ innings when Wauconda beat Warren at Rent One Park in downstate Marion early last spring.
"He carved us up," Kovac said. "He was good. I hope he's still there."
Keller is on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh baseball roster.
Kovac is about to learn a lot more about Wauconda baseball, past and present, and will try to help develop Keller-quality arms. The former Mundelein star (Class of 2003), who served as pitching coach at Mundelein for six seasons and then five more at Warren before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of this past season, was officially named Wauconda's new coach Thursday night.
Kovac replaces the retired Bill Sliker.
It's the first head-coaching job for Kovac, 35, who played collegiately for both Michigan State and Indiana State, earning his degree in physical education (biomechanics/exercise science) from the latter. He also will teach P.E. and strength and conditioning at Wauconda, after teaching P.E. and health for Gavin School District 37 in Ingleside.
"It was a very tough decision leaving some of my best friends in the world, but it came hand in hand with a teaching job," said Kovac, who was named was the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association assistant coach of the year in 2019. "As much as I'm going to miss Warren and those guys, it's a no-brainer to be in the same school (as the players)."
Kovac is well aware that fellow Northern Lake County Conference baseball coaches Chris Malec (Antioch) and Troy Whalen (Grayslake Central) do not teach in their respective buildings and yet run successful programs.
"It is something that's doable," Kovac said. "But, ideally, I like to be around the kids, get to know them, spend all day with them and then go see them at practice to know exactly what I have."
Kovac learned plenty from working under former Mundelein coach Todd Parola, who also coached him in high school, and Warren coach Clint Smothers.
"Todd taught me about work ethic," Kovac said. "He even had me out there sometimes on a holiday working on the baseball field. Competitiveness is really the main thing that I learned from both (Parola and Smothers)."
Kovac plans to keep discovering things about his game.
"Being a sponge around everyone that I've met over the last 12 years has really built me into a better baseball coach," he said. "Different styles, different philosophies. It's been a wonderful experience just learning, and I'm going to continue to learn. Once I stop learning, it's time to retire."
Kovac lives in Fremont Township with his wife, Mary, daughter Kennedy, 6, and son, Clayton, 3. A bonus to his new job is that he's 10 minutes away from WHS. He also gives pitching, hitting and fielding lessons at MVP Sports Academy in Lake Zurich.
"Wauconda definitely made the right choice with Clay Kovac," Smothers said. "He has brought so much to Warren baseball. Even seasons with few pitchers back, Clay always finds ways of developing and making kids believe in themselves. We hate to lose a coach like Clay, but it was the right time for him to move on and become a head coach. That something he has always wanted. Clay is a great friend, and we are excited to see him grow and follow his career at Wauconda and will always consider him family."