Meet Our Coaches



Teaching Academy Coordinator

Meet our Pickle Factory’s Teaching Academy Coordinator, Dr. Dahlia Hirsch!

Stepping into the Pickleball world with a tennis background and the agility of a dancer, Dahlia quickly established herself as a formidable player. But she believed in more than just talent. To Dahlia, true skill came from learning, refining, and being coached by the best.

Her journey saw her train under top-notch pros like Regina Franco and Sarah Ansboury, who recognized her skill and certified her as a PPR Professional Coach and Instructor. And her mentorship didn't stop there. Dahlia's coach, Steve Kennedy, once a tennis star and now among the elite Senior Pickleball Pros in the U.S., has been pivotal in honing her skills as a player and a coach.

Dahlia's teaching mantra revolves around a proper form. For her, the right form is the secret to consistent shots, enjoyable games, and ensuring players' safety. An advocate for nutrition and physical fitness, she believes they're crucial for long-term play and performance.

Dahlia appreciates the parallels and contrasts pickleball shares with other sports. One of her true joys? Guiding players transitioning to pickleball and mentoring those eyeing tournament glory. In her words, she "loves it all!" 

Fun Fact: Dahlia danced at the Grand Ole Opry.

HIRSCH Dahlia_Hirsch


Programming Coordinator

Meet our Programming Coordinator of the Pickle Factory, Lori Phillips!

Hailing from Hilton Head Island, SC, Lori honed her skills with the help of pickleball champ Sarah Ansboury. And she's not just about playing; she's about winning too.

She's been smashing balls and clinching titles for over three years – from the 2023 National Senior Games and the 2023 North Carolina Open to the 2022 Hilton Head Open Golden Ticket. And come November, she's heading to the big leagues at the 2023 USA Pickleball National Championships in Dallas. Her passion for the game's strategy and competitiveness radiates in every match.

As a USPTR tennis coach for over two decades, Lori has helped many local tennis enthusiasts transform into seasoned players. Her tennis accolades include being a two-time Pennsylvania collegiate state doubles champion, winning numerous tennis tournaments and USTA sectional titles. Lori is a PPR Certified Professional Coach and Instructor.

Now, she seamlessly blends her tennis coaching prowess with her pickleball passion, guiding beginners and tournament veterans.

Fun Fact: Lori's parents are left-handed, but she came out all right!

PHILLIPS Lori_Phillips


Alex's athletic journey is exceptional, from the soccer fields of Norway's national youth team to the fast-paced pickleball courts. Training under Collins Johns, Alex has 3.5 years dedicated to playing pickleball at the impressive 4.5/5.0 level, Alex especially shines in mixed doubles.

But it's not just sports where Alex has made his mark. For 27 years, he's steered the course of business at Wells Fargo Bank as Vice President. His dedication to both professional and athletic pursuits speaks for itself.

As a PPR Professional Instructor, Alex's passion now lies in coaching and guiding the next wave of pickleball enthusiasts, sharing the strategies and techniques that have made him a formidable player.

Fun Fact: Alex is Norweigen.

NGUYEN Alex Nguyen 512x700

Gary Benjamin

Gary started playing pickleball in September 2020 with a small group in Rising Sun, MD.  At first, his wife Kelly had to drag Gary kicking and screaming to go play. It wasn’t long until Gary's wife had to drag him away from the courts because he didn’t know when to stop. Gary has entered 4 tournaments and reached the podium 3 times. Gary is a Leader of the Team Reach group for Calvert Regional Park, Cecil County’s premier outdoor courts. 

Gary's athletic background includes high school soccer and wrestling, college club table tennis, and several years of fast-pitch softball. Gary also coached youth baseball and soccer. 

Gary retired in 2018 after a 32-year career as a Department of Defense Cost Analyst at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Also, Gary owns Hilltop Tree Farm in Conowingo, selling Christmas trees since 1987.

Gary's pickleball teaching experience began in early 2022 at the Elkton YMCA working with Jimmy Russell in the ongoing clinics there. He enjoys helping beginners improve their game to the next level and has taught several beginners at our driveway court at home. 

Fun Facts: I danced on stage with punk rock icon Iggy Pop at the Lallapalooza concert in Chicago.


Giorgio (Gio) Butts

I hold a Bachelor's in Sports Management, with a minor in Applied Youth Development and a concentration in Athletic Coaching. Born and raised in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, for 15 years, my coaching style is influenced by my cultural roots, emphasizing warmth and inclusivity. With a client-centric approach to training, I combine structured workouts with individualized exercises to create a personalized and enjoyable fitness experience. Drawing on my personal training background, I find satisfaction in guiding clients through their fitness journeys. As a pickleball instructor with nine months of playing experience, I seamlessly integrate my diverse background, including one collegiate year and two years in tennis, enhancing my ability to offer comprehensive insights in future lessons. This unique blend of personal training and racquet sports expertise ensures a well-rounded approach to both fitness and pickleball skill development. Additionally, my passion for salsa and bachata dancing adds a rhythmic touch, contributing to a holistic and enriching experience for individuals on their fitness and pickleball journey.

Fun Fact: Giorgio likes to bachata and salsa dance—has danced with Dr. Hirsch on the pickleball courts before drilling in the mornings! 



From powerful serves on Division 1 tennis courts to thrilling pickleball rallies, Jimmy brings a wealth of experience and passion to the game. As a certified USPTA instructor, he seamlessly translates his tennis skills onto pickleball courts, offering players a unique and rounded perspective on the game.

With two years under his belt as a certified pickleball instructor and notable tournament success, Jimmy is primed to elevate the games of beginners and seasoned pros. His dedication shines in every lesson, ensuring players tap into their full potential and enjoy every moment on the court. Jimmy loves spending time with his family when he's not on the court.

Fun Fact: Jimmy is a dog lover with adorable German Shepherds!

RUSSELL Jimmy_Russell


In the summer of 2020, amid the challenges of the COVID era, a kind neighbor's invitation introduced Nicole to the vibrant world of pickleball. She was completely enamored with the game from her first rally, and it soon became her passion.

With a background in personal and professional development, Nicole has always had a knack for coaching. Her entry into pickleball coaching was a natural progression, combining her experience in workshops, life coaching, and positive psychology.

Nicole's approach is distinct, focusing on holistic growth – she's not just teaching the sport; she's fostering a wellness community where players thrive and find a sense of belonging. She finds immense joy in guiding new enthusiasts, witnessing their transformation from novices to skilled players.

One of her specialties? Corporate team-building programs that use pickleball to strengthen camaraderie and collaboration. And when it comes to the younger generation, Nicole loves their infectious enthusiasm and eagerness to learn the game.

Fun Fact: Nicole can ride a unicycle! 

BK1_0783 (1)

Sara Maher

Hailing from Connecticut, Sarah excelled in high school tennis, basketball, and volleyball. But pickleball, a sport she picked up from her parents, would become her greatest passion. Today, she stands as a force on the pickleball court with a Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR) certification and a 5.0 player rating under her belt.

Sara's competitive spirit takes her to tournaments nationwide, amassing an impressive tally: 34 gold medals, 27 silver, and 22 bronze. The US Open in Naples, FL, holds a special place in her heart, having participated in all five events for the last three consecutive years. 

Beyond her tournament achievements, Sara has dedicated 15 years to teaching Physical Education in Baltimore County, emphasizing the importance of fitness and teamwork to her students.

Fun Fact: When Sara's not on the pickleball courts, she loves hiking adventures and karaoke.

MAHER Sara_Maher

Scott Kelley

Scott is a Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR) Certified Coach and is an integral part of Pickleball at The Arena Club and promoting the development of the Pickle Factory.
As a USA Pickleball Ambassador for Harford County, MD, Scott has 7+ years of Pickleball experience; promoting Pickleball programs and helping players improve their game.
Scott has a background in acquisition, sustainment logistics, and supply chain management for over 34 years.
FUN FACT: "I was struck twice by lightning, once in my bed as a teenager and once in my twenties playing beach volleyball." 
KELLEY Scott_Kelley