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Rapid City Stevens tennis coach Jason Olson holds up ball commemorating his 500th match win as girls' coach.

Abbey Dehler knew the number of wins that the Rapid City Stevens program would reach under coach Jason Olson if she won her match Friday as the Raiders took on Sioux Falls Roosevelt.

If Dehler won, it would secure the match for Stevens, and it would be Olson's 500th match win in his 22 seasons as coach of the girls' program.

"I didn’t say anything about it, I didn’t want any pressure on her because this is about the team, not individual stuff," he said.

But she knew. Olson is also an assistant coach in the Stevens boys' basketball program where she is a team manager, her brother played for Olson and she is friends with Olson's kids.

So when Dehler won, she simply flashed "500" with her hands at her coach.

After the win, both wrote "500" on tennis balls to celebrate the occasion, and Olson said he plans to keep his for a long time.

Earlier that day, the Raider beat Yankton 8-1. The win was Olson's 900th win combined as the boys' and girls' coach, he has been the boys' coach for 21 seasons.

"As you’ve been doing this a long time some of these things happen if you’re lucky enough to have as many good kids as I’ve had over the years," Olson said. "It felt good, not only for me, but the kids and the program. I’ve had so many good kids and it gave me a chance to reflect back."

In his mind, the kids have made the program. A lot of those kids don't seem to stray too far from it either.

From players stopping on trips to and from college to watch the Raiders, or visiting the Sioux Park courts on their college break, being a part of the Stevens tennis program doesn't seem to stop being important to a lot of the players who have come through the program.

To Olson, that's more important than milestones like 500 or 900 wins.

"It’s great because they’re not coming back to see me they’re coming back to see the program. They’re coming back to see their teammates and the whole thing because we kind of become a family here," he said. "Every year when the season ends in October it’s emotionally draining for me, because I’m with these kids in the Spring for the boys season all the way through the summer and through the girls’ season, so it’s like, what’s next?"

He's been to weddings of his former players, and it's even gotten to the point where children of former players are starting to take lessons from him, hoping to be wearing Stevens colors and playing on the Sioux Park courts one day.

That brings a smile to Olson's face. He remembers when he was first building the Raider program, and it's hard for him to imagine that much time has passed.

"It’s really crazy," he said with a laugh. "I just turned 50 and I still think ‘wow, these kids don’t seem old enough to have kids’ and that group all have quite a few kids now."

It isn't just the Stevens program he has built in his 22 years with the program. He's notched 35 years with the Rapid City Parks and Recreation department, with the goal of getting more kids interested in the sport he loves.

He's the first to say there are many more people than Olson who have contributed to the rise of the sport's popularity in Rapid City, and that growth is something that he takes a lot of pride in.

"I feel very, very proud of what Rapid City tennis has become. We hold national tournaments that the parks and rec. department helps runs and tournaments the tennis association helps run," he said. "We’re kind of a tennis community that’s grown and grown and we weren’t always, but we’ve kind of gotten there. I think the vocal point for me is the state tournament, we do an amazing job running the state tournament."

One of the ways the sport has grown is more participation from younger kids, and that can see seen in the junior varsity ranks of the Raider program.

Olson has always held up the J.V. program, which over the weekend lost its first dual match in two years to Sioux Falls O'Gorman, and that program's development is also something he's proud of.

"People always talk about your varsity but your junior varsity is just as important," he said. "They take pride too, and that’s one of the first things I established with my athletic director is to make it about everybody, not just your top."

Stevens faces Rapid City Central Tuesday at the Parkview Tennis Complex.

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Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.