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Zender named new coach at Kentwood | BASEBALL

The Kentwood High baseball program didn't have to look far in finding a new coach to replace Jon Aarstad, who stepped down in July.

Mark Zender, who teaches marketing and the DECA program at the school, was named last week as Aarstad's replacement. Zender spent the last two years as the school's freshmen team baseball coach and assisted alongside Aarstad. However, Zender's experience runs much deeper than the last two years. Zender was the head baseball coach at O'Dea High School from 1987-1997, when he guided the Fighting Irish to three state berths in 11 years. The high point for O'Dea under Zender came in 1987, when the Fighting Irish took third at the state tournament.

Taking over the program at Kentwood was not part of the original plan, Zender admitted.

"It wasn't something I came into Kentwood thinking about," said Zender, who is in his third year at the school. "Obviously I've done this before and I am qualified. I believe it's a long-term commitment to continue what has been done."

Zender has some big shoes to fill.

Aarstad inherited a strong baseball program eight years ago, and helped transform it into one of the best in the state. In eight years, Aarstad, who teaches math, compiled a record of 134-60, a mark that includes a state title in 2010 and a third-place finish in 2006. In addition, the Conquerors have advanced to the state playoffs in seven of the last eight years, including this past season.

"My goal is to continue what Jon did," Zender said. "I am excited about the kids we have."

Zender will be inheriting a team that possesses considerable talent. Catcher Reese McGuire, a junior, was the South Puget Sound League North Division MVP this past spring. Meanwhile, McGuire's brother, Cash, also is one of the league's top returners in addition to pitcher Taylor Jones.

"It's a very, very good group of kids who are coming back," Zender said. "Given that, there's a certain level of excitement and expectations there."

In eight years under Aarstad, the Conquerors won one SPSL North title (2010), finished second three times (2004, 2009, 2011) and had two third-place finishes (2006, 2007).

Aarstad stepped down in July, when a position at Auburn Riverside became available. Aarstad will be taking over for Chris Garrison at Auburn Riverside. Garrison is the only coach the Auburn Riverside program has ever had. Coincidentally, Aarstad and Garrison were South Puget Sound League North Division co-Coaches of the Year this spring.

The decision to leave Kentwood wasn't an easy one, Aarstad admitted. However, the short commute proved to be too much for the former Kentwood coach.

"I live five minutes from there. My commute will be going from 70 minutes a day down to 10," said Aarstad, who lives in Lake Tapps.

In addition to his high school baseball coaching experience, Zender also operates the Grand Slam Baseball Camp, which he founded in 1993 and serves youth in the greater Puget Sound region. According to its web site (www.grandslamcamp.com), Grand Slam is "based upon sound educational principals (and) always spiced with our total love for the game." The camps are designed for children between the ages of 8 and 12.

With the season still several months away, Zender's excitement level remains high.

"I am excited and looking forward to the challenge," he said. "There will be some pressure, but it's not like the cupboard is bare. We should be a good team."

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