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New Kentwood coach a familiar face | Boys baseball
Mark Zender couldn’t be happier than he is at Kentwood these days.
Zender is the new head coach for the Conquerors baseball squad after spending the previous three seasons coaching the freshman team.
During the day he’s a marketing teacher at Kentwood High.
“I love what I’m doing,” Zender said. “I have an absolute, true passion for teaching marketing. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing right now. I feel very, very fortunate.”
He takes over for Jon Aarstad, who left after eight years for a teaching and coaching position at Auburn Riverside, who led the team to a 4A state title in 2010 as well as a district title and state quarterfinal appearance a year ago.
Zender, who grew up near Bellingham and earned an education degree at Seattle University where he also played baseball, is coaching a team he knows well.
Aarstad had mentioned to Zender that at some point he may leave Kentwood and wondered if his freshman coach would be interested in pursuing the head coaching position at some point.
It seemed like a natural fit when Aarstad did get the job at Riverside for Zender to transition into the head coaching position.
“They knew I was qualified and they had seen me teach,” Zender said. “I was familiar with the kids. I know all the kids who are juniors and sophomores.”
Plus, he served as the bench coach for the varsity during the playoffs.
“I’ve coached all these kids before,” Zender said. “The kids know me and I know them.”
Aarstad said in an email interview he felt like it was a good fit.
“It wasn’t based purely on baseball philosophy,” Aarstad wrote. “I asked because I knew that Mark is a good, quality person and someone who will put forth the effort needed to run a baseball program effectively. Mark definitely has the baseball background and head coaching experience that is needed, and he puts both those qualities together, that made him an outstanding candidate to take over.”
Zender also knows coaching. After graduating from Seattle University he eventually landed a job teaching and coaching at O’Dea in Seattle. He served as the head baseball coach there from 1987-1997 and took that team to the 3A state tournament three times.
For 20 years, he and his wife have run a baseball camp in Enumclaw, plus Zender has also coached youth club baseball in Enumclaw which he did during an 11-year stint away from education. In that time he worked in sales for a baseball supply company which was what helped him land the job as a marketing teacher — previously he had taught physical education.
Even if Zender weren’t the coach there would be tremendous potential there.
He explained that the Conks have four players who have signed with Division I schools including his one and two pitchers in the rotation: Taylor Jones who has committed to Gonzaga University and Skyler Genger, who will play for Zender’s alma mater, Seattle University.
This group has lofty goals chief among them to win another state championship.
“The expectations are very high,” Zender said. “But, reasonable because with baseball you never know. If they play their best … they know they’ve got as good a shot as anybody. We know we’re one of 15 or 20 teams who are capable of winning a state championship.”
Zender believes this team can do it if the players combine the level of talent with discipline and a solid work ethic.
“You just get better every day,” he said. “Every guy has to get better every day. You do every little thing right every day. Not just on the field but in school, at home.”
After Kentwood beat Kentridge 6-2 on March 22 in the first South Puget Sound League North game thanks to an offensive outburst in the bottom of the sixth to break up a 2-2 tie Zender was pleased with the effort.
“We have things to work on,” he said. “We’re not where we’ll be at the end of the year. We don’t just show up and win. We have to work. It was a team win and that was a good thing for us.”
Right now, though, Zender couldn’t be happier. He’s got the perfect teaching job and he’s coaching baseball.
“I’m just a baseball junkie,” he said. “So, we just smile and play baseball.”