WARSAW – Rick Orban has plenty of reasons to be excited about the start of another season for his Warsaw girls tennis team.
He has a roster loaded with talent.
He has a roster loaded with experience.
He has a roster loaded with depth and options.
But much more importantly for the longtime coach is that he has his own health back.
Orban is set to guide the fortunes of his squad after surviving a major health scare last September near the end of the boys tennis season. Orban was hospitalized for nine days, eight of those in ICU, in Fort Wayne as he battled a very aggressive form of pneumonia.
Orban, who has had tons of success with both the WCHS girls and boys programs over the years, is feeling much better these days.
“I feel pretty good,” said Orban in a phone interview last week as he enjoyed an annual Spring Break trip with his wife Jan and other family members. “I have 100 percent of my lung capacity back.
“I really have come out of this whole thing incredibly well. My doctor has been stunned with my recovery. He told me that I was an absolute anamoly. They said it would take probably 6-8 months for my recovery and I got the all-clear in like mid-January.”
Orban, who is 66, admits that the ordeal was much more serious than most people knew.
“At first, I thought that I would be back in a few days,” admitted Orban. “But I had an extremely aggressive case of pneumonia and it was extremely serious. My doctor at one point gave me a less than 10 percent chance of surviving it.”
“All of a sudden, dying became a reality. I just sat there after talking to Jan (his wife and assistant coach) and thought about my grandkids. I thought about all the things with them that I was going to miss.”
Orban though was also bound and determined to return to doing what he loves, coaching. He was able to improve his breathing enough in order to get released from the hospital in time to return to see his boys team win its sixth straight sectional title and the 13th in his 15th season. He left the team during a match on Sept. 14 and was back at the Warsaw Sectional just 13 days later with an oxygen tank in tow.
“I’m just not a person who gives up and my entire mindset was to get out of that hospital and back to tennis,” related Orban. “The team had a sectional to play and I wanted them to focus on tennis and not on me.”
“Once I got out, I was just bound and determined to make my lungs stronger so I found exercises for that and that’s what I did.”
Orban, who has one daughter along with eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, knows how fortunate he is.
“At my last appointment, my doctor just grinned and asked me do I understand how lucky I am,” recounted Orban. “I do understand how lucky I am. A lot of people would not have walked out of that hospital like I was able to. It’s a new lease on life. You look at your priorities and think about what’s important to you.”
“Coaching is still extremely important to me and I still want to win. As long as I enjoy it, I plan to keep doing it.”
Orban says the focus right now is on another strong season on the courts. The Tigers return six of the top seven players from a team that advanced to the semistate for the second straight year in 2017. Warsaw has a loaded roster with the likes of Liza Lewis, Ella Knight, Alyssa Zellers and Colette Smith set to lead the way.
“We know that we have an extremely talented team,” said Orban, who has guided the girls’ program to 17 sectional titles in his 17 years. “We definitely have the talent to make a run at it this year and I’m looking forward to it.
“Our success will truly depend on how the girls buy in and do what’s best for the team. If they embrace their role on the team and accept their position we will be tough.
“I’m going to have a lot of options with our lineup with the talent and depth that we do have and that’s a huge advantage to have. Early on in the season I will tinker and experiment with lineups to see how it all works for us.”
Warsaw opens its season at Fort Wayne Canterbury Tuesday. The home opener is Thursday versus Columbia City before the Tigers host their own tournament on Saturday.