By Tim Wester
If you didn’t know Ava and Rob Domagalski, you might wonder if their story was a Disney movie knock off.
Perhaps in a few weeks Disney may end up stealing the Domagalski’s unique and compelling story.
As long-time Union Grove basketball coach, Rob has directed his teams to eight Southern Lakes Conference titles in nine years. Meanwhile, daughter Ava has played organized basketball with the same small group of girls since grade school and has won most of their games over the past 10 years. Now, coach Rob and daughter Ava have helped lead the program to its winningest stretch in school history (86-14).
As their story concludes, the Domagalskis will write a final chapter, which they aspire to be a Disney-esque tear-jerker ending with father and daughter hoisting a state championship trophy in their final game together.
Whether they achieve storybook ending or not, the Domagalskis want to savor their remaining moments on the court together.
“When I think about next year, I choke up and get a little anxiety because I’ve loved coaching these girls since they were young in youth basketball and they were always there,” Rob said. “It’s hard to let go because it will be over at some point whether we have a gold ball or not.”
“I always look back and wish I could have enjoyed it more. The one thing being the head coach and the dad is I don’t get to enjoy it because you are representing the school and the kids, and I wish I could go back in time and enjoyed it more with my daughter.”
Ava admits she won’t be able to fully absorb the experience until the conclusion of her career.
“I don’t think its gong to sink in until it all actually ends,” Ava said. “We’re not even trying to think its going to end and just trying to play the remaining games one-by-one. Any anything can happen so you can’t take any team for granted or it will be our last game.”
Basketball has been the common bond between Ava and Rob for many years spanning back to grade school for Ava. Although Ava had other basketball coaches in the early days, Rob has always been her mentor and eventual coach in youth, summer, AAU, and varsity basketball coach.
“I had a great experience with my dad as coach,” Ava said. “When I was little, he would always try to take me to camps or go to the gym with me but I never wanting to go but looking back I regret not gong more because I’m on my last run and wish we had done more.”
It took time for Rob and Ava to build their bond. Ava recalls needing the perspective of another coach in middle school.
“I had a different coach in middle school, and it was nice getting a hint of someone else because my dad is the only voice I hear at home and at school, so it was hard to separate his coach voice from his at-home voice. At the end of the day, we are best friends.”
“In a basketball setting it was just different as her coach at first,” Rob said. “When it first started it was hard with how do separate being a coach and a dad and I think I’m a little better now, but I still get upset from time to time.”
Rob isn’t just Ava’s coach; he has also been her teacher in his AP Statistics class.
“There was a big transition period in high school because I was not used to having my dad at school and at practice,” Ava said. “It was a lot for both of us, but we figured it out to a system.”
Ava will also have a difficult time without some of her teammates like Elizabeth Spang who has played basketball with her since first grade. Others like Sophia Rampulla has been her teammate since middle school. The chemistry between them has helped them win four straight conference championships, 86 varsity games so far, a sectional final appearance, and perhaps a deep playoff run this year.
“All teams say they are so close, but these girls know everything about each other and know each other’s next move on and off the court,” Ava said. “The kind of chemistry we have is crazy and I don’t think a lot of people have the bond that this team has. I don’t think we realized how good we were as kids, but it was almost like the normal thing to win.”
“It’s amazing how it all came together but good kids come and go but they have stuck together,” Rob said. “I feel like the old uncle that people make fun of than the coach. It’s molded into something special that has contributed to our success as a team.”
The memories, successes, and special bond between Ava, Rob and the team will certainly last forever.