When the opposition had to prepare for The Woodlands Lady Highlanders the past three seasons, they were up against possibly the most decorated coaching staff in all of Texas high school. If not the country.
Through the conclusion of the 2021 season, there were 1,177 head coaching wins at the varsity level between Lady Highlanders head coach Dina Graves and her first assistant, Frankie Whitlock.
Now the torch will be passed from one Texas Association of Coaches hall of famer to another.
Whitlock, who moved to The Woodlands in 2018 after 33 years coaching in the San Antonio area, has been promoted to head coach of the Lady Highlanders after Graves stepped down to take a new role in the Conroe ISD athletic department last week.
“You don’t replace Dina Graves,” Whitlock said. “You just don’t. But I want to continue all of her traditions she started when (the program) was just a wee little baby.”
Whitlock has totaled 611 wins and eight trips to the state tournament during her coaching career, which started at Converse Judson in 1985, then on to San Antonio Churchill from 1992 to 1999 (three trips to state) and then San Antonio Reagan from 2001-2018 (five trips to state). Her teams went to the regional tournament 17 times and won 16 district championships.
Whitlock moved to the Houston area after the 2018 season at Reagan to be closer to family. Her sister had come to nearly every game Whitlock coached and kept stats and she also coached two nieces at Reagan.
Becoming a head coach again wasn’t always in the plans.
“It really didn’t cross my mind,” Whitlock said. “I was born and raised in San Antonio and I was looking to come to the Houston area because my family had moved. I was really missing them.”
Upon her arrival in Houston, Whitlock was in touch with Graves about an opportunity to coach together.
“I’ve known Coach Graves since 1997,” Whitlock said. “I started coming to her (January) tournament the first year that she had it when I was at Churchill. I brought those teams every year and then when I took over as assistant athletic director and head coach at Reagan, I contacted Dina and asked her if I could bring them and she said ‘absolutely’.”
A bond and mutual respect was generated between the two through coaching over the years.
“She knows me, she knows my personality,” Whitlock said. “We have ultimate respect for each other and we were a good match.”
Whitlock jumped at the chance to interview for the assistant job at The Woodlands.
“I became a Highlander and I am honored, humbled and privileged,” she said.
Whitlock, who’s already a member of the TASCO hall of honor, and Graves, who will be inducted this November, were a great pair and just a fountain of soccer knowledge for the Lady Highlanders.
“We used to tease that we were going to get t-shirts made that said ‘Two Old Ladies and a Great Team’,” Whitlock said. “What was remarkable for the both of us was we learned from each other. We both have our specialties. But we took advantage of the things we learned from each other.”
Whitlock quickly assimilated herself into The Woodlands community after getting the job.
“It’s been incredible,” Whitlock said. “It’s a wonderful community. The kids are phenomenal. I put them first and they are incredible humans.”
The Woodlands reached the regional quarterfinals in the first season on staff together in 2019. The Lady Highlanders were poised for a deep playoff run in 2020 before the remainder of the season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Then, this past spring, The Woodlands returned to the state tournament for the first time in 11 years before falling in the state semifinals. The Lady Highlanders went 23-2 and outscored opponents 100-13.
“We were just a great soccer marriage at work to get our kids striving for the excellence that they already have,” Whitlock said.
The great part of the transition for Whitlock into the 2022 season is relationships are already developed with the returning players.
“The relationships are awesome,” Whitlock said. “They welcomed me with open arms. Just like Dina Graves had always done. I’ve been around these type of kids. Where I came from was an easy transition with great kids and a great community. I knew what the expectations were and putting the kids first.
“That’s what we do with the Lady Highlanders.”
There will be some familiarity on her staff as well going into the next school year.
Whitlock will work alongside first assistant Claire Eiteljorge, who happens to be her niece and the goalkeeper of the 2009 Reagan team that made it to state. Eiteljorge was a junior varsity coach this past spring for the Lady Highlanders.
“One of the highlights of my career — just like Coach Graves (and her daughters) — is to get to coach your own,” Whitlock said. “I got to coach both my nieces. Claire Eiteljorge is on our staff and coaching with me. It’s neat to reflect that she took this path on her own and maybe I had a little something to do (with that).”
Tim Franciskovich also returns on the staff.
“We have a great staff in place,” Whitlock said. “And we are going to keeping moving forward.”