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With help from his friends, Wojcinski and Bay succeeded

Dukes' leader Now Coach of the Year

Aug. 12, 2014

The "Three Musketeers" they are decidedly not, but area baseball coaches Jeff Wolf of Germantown, Ernie Millard of Homestead and Jay Wojcinski of Whitefish Bay are buds, pals and, of course, friendly rivals.

With the accent on the "friendly."

So when Wojcinski's Blue Dukes won their first-ever North Shore Conference title in the long, strong history of Bay baseball (think Craig Counsell, David Casey and Kevin James to name just a few), Wolf and Millard took Wojcinski out for a congratulatory dinner.

A few toasts were made, much in the way or praise was heaped upon Wojcinski by his friends and in the most remarkable event of the evening according to Wojcinski, Millard and Wolf picked up the tab for everything (insert many laughs here).

It was just that kind of summer for Wojcinski and indeed, his friends were impressed as the Blue Dukes turned in a school record 27-6 season that stopped just short of the state tournament with a loss in the WIAA sectional finals to Millard's Homestead squad.

A kind of season that earned the veteran, success-oriented Wojcinski Now Newspapers Coach of the Year honors for 2014.

"They were just fundamentally sound and played the game the right way," said Wolf. "The way it should be. They were humble, they played hard every time out and they didn't make a lot of mistakes.

"It's a real credit to Jay. I'm just really impressed with how he has built that program from Little League on up right through to the varsity."

Millard concurred and noted that despite having a veteran squad, the job was not easy for Wojcinski and the Blue Dukes.

"It was an extremely difficult job," said Millard. "He was under huge pressure to win the title this year because they simply never had before. He did a great job navigating those waters. He had a fantastic pitching staff but not a great offense, but they found a way to manufacture runs.

"They found a way to get it done."

Wojcinski is grateful to his friends, and it goes deeper than just a friendly dinner or a hotly contested summer night game under the blistering July sun.

He had been a hot-shot outfielder for some high-level UW-Whitewater teams in the mid-late 1990s under coach Jim Miller (whom he still consults), went on to have a fun time playing professional ball in Slovenia for a year and also spent some time with a team in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the Atlantic Coast League.

Real life kicked in and he went back to school to get his teaching degree. While back at school, he assisted at his alma mater for a couple of seasons and, in 1996, he started coaching at Waukesha South, staying there and helping the powerful Blackshirts win conference titles from 1998-2000.

More success followed as he helped Greendale win a league crown in 2001 followed by some assisting stints at Sussex Hamilton and Pius XI. He even aided Milwaukee Madison in earning a City title.

"I got in there coaching (early on) and I didn't know how I'd be," Wojcinski said. "I found that I liked working with kids and started to think that I could really do this."

But as noted, he wouldn't have had a chance to start without some help from his friends.

Or his friends' dad.

"Without Frank Wolf, I don't think I get the (Waukesha) South job," said Wojcinski. "He made a recommendation for me. Without that, I don't think I'd have this job (at Bay) or be talking to you about this (being Coach of the Year)."

Frank Wolf is Jeff's dad. He is now retried, but was the athletic director for Nicolet at the time of his recommendation for Wojcinski, tipping the first domino that eventually landed Wojcinski at Bay.

"Woj," as he is known to his friends, took over the Bay coaching job shortly after the Milwaukee Madison stint and has helped turned the Blue Dukes into a steady force in the area, taking them to the state semifinals in 2011 and being a perpetual thorn in the side to league powers like West Bend West, Nicolet and Homestead.

But the league title kept eluding his squads and the pressure kept building, especially in light of the elaborate new Cahill Park that was was opened this season with a no-hitter thrown by the Blue Dukes' Adam Fuda in late May.

The team started off fast, beating eventual state spring D2 champ Jefferson early on and then shortly thereafter embarking on a 14-game winning streak that helped Bay cement control of the North Shore. It was a pitching deep team that gave opponents' little relief.

"In past, I've always had teams that could hit with OK pitching and defense," said Wojcinski, "but this year we wanted to place the emphasis on pitching and defense and I guess, I guessed right in that regard."

That strong base was key, for if there was external pressure, Wojcinski and the Blue Dukes bore it well. Wojcinski said there was an early team meeting where goals were set. The league title was first and foremost.

After that, it was never talked about until the Blue Dukes sealed the deal in July. Now All-Suburban and WBCA All-State shortstop Cole Stasiak said it wouldn't have been possible without Wojcinski.

"It was a great system he put together with himself and all the other coaches," said Stasiak. "They gave us a lot of room to grow on our own but were always there for us if we needed guidance."

Which Wojcinski was always happy to give. He still talks to people like Miller, Jeff Wolf and others for guidance himself, but now trusts himself more. He'll have an even more experienced squad back next year for another run at even bigger and better things.

He feels he can handle the pressure of all that as long as he has a little help from his friends.

"Things went way beyond what I thought they would this season," he said. "Just amazing."

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