Santos Honored

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Although the topic of fishing dominates most of his conversations nowadays, it wasn’t too long ago that winning state volleyball championships was what Mitch Santos spent most of his time doing.

It is his achievements on the court that will earn him accolades next month when he is inducted into the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame during the Oct. 27 ceremony at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

Mitch Santos (right) is pictured with Steve Konkright who served as junior varsity coach throughout most of Mr. Santos's career. The pair collected 11 state titles, 10 of which were consecutive. Mr.  Santos is being honored next month at the Inland Northest Sports Hall of Fame. Mr. Konkright was instrumental in developing younger players and preparing them for varsity competition, Mr. Santos said.

Mitch Santos (right) is pictured with Steve Konkright who served as junior varsity coach throughout most of Mr. Santos’s career. The pair collected 11 state titles, 10 of which were consecutive. Mr. Santos is being honored next month at the Inland Northest Sports Hall of Fame. Mr. Konkright was instrumental in developing younger players and preparing them for varsity competition, Mr. Santos said.

Mr. Santos is being honored for his success as varsity volleyball coach at St. Maries High School, and his legacy will be enshrined in a cubicle at the arena alongside other area greats, including WSU Football coach Mike Price, NFL pro Mark Rypien and MLB star Ryne Sandberg.

During his 25-year tenure with St. Maries volleyball, Mr. Santos and his teams dominated the A2 state tournament for years, and he was awarded Idaho state coach of the year 11 times. He credits much of that success to a combination of his coaching style and the work ethic of his athletes.

“Either you desire to recreate or you desire to be competitive, and there’s something to be said about both. There’s nothing wrong with recreational play, that fulfills a purpose, but it’s really not for me,” he said of his coaching style. “I get too competitive, and I like to see the game played at the highest level.”

His teams not only played at the highest level, they dominated the highest level, claiming 11 A2 state titles – 10 of which were consecutive – and consistently defeating schools from higher classifications – most notably, A1 rival Sandpoint.

In fact, the Lumberjacks held a national record with the fifth-longest winning streak in the nation’s history with 145 consecutive matches won. That record was snapped in 1994 in front of a crowd of 1,100 fans at Sandpoint. That game, played in pre-rally scoring days, went five matches, 9-15, 12-15, 15-11, 15-7, 13-15. The Bulldogs went on to win the A1 state trophy that season.

Perhaps more impressive than the longevity of his success is the speed with which Mr. Santos was able to create a dominant program.

“The first year we weren’t very competitive, but that first group had the desire to be better and wanted to win. They were dedicated and one of the hardest working teams I had,” he said. “They were motivated to play, just didn’t know how to win.”

That changed quickly.

Mr. Santos was hired as a science teacher for St. Maries in 1976. He coached 7th and 8th grade football and served as an assistant high school wrestling coach at the start of his tenure with the district. It wasn’t until 1979 that he took the helm of the volleyball program. Only three seasons later, he won his first state title.

He had a knack for developing players who otherwise might not showcase obvious athletic talents. He credits that piece of his success to the fact that he wasn’t an exceptional athlete growing up.

“In my high school just to make the team was a big deal, so to get my playing time I had to really work for it,” he said. “And I think that background helped me and my coaching, I expected the same thing out of my athletes.”

Mr. Santos participated in football, wrestling, soccer and swim team in high school. Other than playing beach volleyball while studying at San Jose State, he had no experience with the sport.

But he knew how to coach.

“The way I coached it, that program was not for everybody,” he said of his style. “It took me three or four years for the ego thing to settle – it finally reached a little peak – and then it became time to look at the bigger picture, which was getting the girls out of town. I didn’t look at college scholarships as their ticket, but that sports were their vehicle.”

He believed that working toward a goal and achieving success helped change how his athletes approached their life. His goal was to help his players see that there was a bigger world available to them and that they should set their goals accordingly.

And it worked. Most of his athletes are successful businesswomen, teachers and even coaches themselves.

“Each team was different; each had its set of challenges,” he said. “I never took going to state for granted. I tried to treat each trip the same. I was thankful for the support I got from the town.”

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