Keith Lopati, West High School’s outstanding softball coach

Story and photo by HUNTER THORNBURG

When West High School in Salt Lake City is searching for a new head coach for any of its athletic programs, it creates a selection committee through which all potential coaches will interview. The committee contains two student guardians, two staff members, one of the school administrators, and the athletic director. All potential hires receive the same questions from the committee, and the process is competitive.

Coach Keith Lopati in his West High School office.

Out of this selective procedure came West High School’s Varsity Softball Coach, Keith Lopati.

Lopati is a special education teacher, working specifically with the behavior unit at West High. He is heading into his eighth year of softball coaching in Spring 2020. Lopati strives to connect with his athletes and does everything he can to help the student-athletes get where they want to be. For him, it all starts with establishing the coach-player relationship.

He added that after the relationship and trust is built with his athletes, he focuses on what they’re hoping to achieve as a student-athlete, whether that be playing at the collegiate level, or simply just concentrating on self-improvement.

Lopati said, “My coaching style is really being able to build a rapport with all of the athletes that I come in contact with, whether it be female or male, and starting from there and working the ground level up.” He added, “The approach is really just to get to know them and build that relationship with them in order to understand their needs, and then go from there.”

Over the years he has coached at West High School, he says he has been fortunate to have worked with all sorts of individuals — from the top-tier athletes to those students simply looking to be a part of a team.

Student-athletes say he has significantly impacted them on and off the field.

Daisy Taloa, a senior at West High School, said Lopati is good at holding the athletes accountable and making sure they are always on top of their school work. She said he is an involved coach too. Despite keeping the athletes in line academically and athletically, Taloa also mentioned that Lopati has established engaging and fun conditions for the girls to play softball in.

Taloa said, “When we had to put pressure on ourselves to make sure our performance was our best, we’d do it, but it was fun. You didn’t ever feel like you didn’t want to play softball anymore, and he made the environment a good environment for you to want to stay in.”

Taloa added that Lopati has helped her improve as an athlete and as a student. She will play collegiate softball on a full-ride scholarship for Grand Canyon State University, located in Phoenix, following her senior year.

Another senior leader and future collegiate athlete on the team is Kensey Lopati, the coach’s daughter. Like her teammate Taloa, Kensey said her dad is involved as a head coach, and focuses on making sure the student-athletes are doing the right things on and off the field. However, Kensey said that when the girls make mistakes during practice, Lopati calmly brings it to their attention and teaches them the way to correct it.

Regarding Lopati’s approach, Kensey said, “His coaching style really is: if we want it, we’ll go get it. He’s just here teaching us and giving us the tools to succeed.”

She said that thanks to the guidance of Lopati, as a father and a coach, she will go on to play collegiate softball on a full-ride scholarship for Salt Lake Community College following her high school career.

Lopati’s success connecting with the athletes, and guiding them to triumph has not only been recognized by the student-athletes, but also by West High School’s athletic director, Rachel Townsend. She has been in the position for three years, and pays close attention to the many athletic programs the school, located at 241 N. 300 West, offers. Although she was not the athletic director when Lopati was hired, she says she’s not surprised the committee decided on him.

Townsend agrees with the student-athletes and their assessment of Lopati. She appreciates the fact that he holds the athletes accountable on and off the field.

“He has created an environment that makes people want to play here, people that aren’t really familiar with the sport. He’s also created an environment where the students know that what they put in is what they get out of it,” she said.

Townsend said Lopati has successfully coached several athletes to the collegiate level, both at Division 1, and junior college. Some of the athletes currently playing college softball include Huntyr Ava at Brigham Young University, Keisha White at North Carolina State, and Jazmyn Rollin at the University of Missouri.

Lopati won 5A state championships with his team in 2017 and 2019, and also won Coach of the Year in those seasons. Townsend attributed this success to his extensive knowledge of the game, and his ability to effectively convey that knowledge to the student-athletes.

As the 2020 season approaches, Lopati says he is planning to keep up the momentum and will continue to make efforts to connect with his athletes in order to guide them to successful futures.

%d bloggers like this: