Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The start of something new

Dear fans, families and friends,

The end of this season was a whirlwind of tennis, families and emotions for me.  In case you weren't following along, after the most thrilling Conference Tournament title possible with a 5-4 win over a young Lewis and Clark team that came down to a tie break in the third set of the last match, we took to California for NCAA Regionals.  Our first round as the #3 seed in the 6 team draw faced us against #6 St. Scholastica.  The Saints from Minnesota played tough doubles but our talent, experience and depth came through in a 5-0 win.  Our second round (regional semifinal = national round of 32), we faced another young talented team in #2 seed (and #10 nationally) Pomona Pitzer.  The Sagehens came out on top of two close doubles matches and played terrific at the other for a 3-0 sweep.  We fought hard, and were in many matches, but there are probably about two more subtle levels of depth in DIII and the Hens are in that next group and played great to win the match and finish our season.

Some highlights from the end of the year for me were on court.  One of these was the doubles play of Maddy and Hanna.  In Maddy's senior year, her game found an incredible new level where she was still dominating the net but was also as solid as anyone with her serves, returns and crosscourt groundstrokes.  She can know that the finished her career as one of the top doubles players in our conference and region - for someone who did not play a single USTA tournament growing up, her amazing college career is one that our program will build on as it shows how far talent, hard work and strong character can take you, regardless of your junior ranking (or lack thereof).  During the Pomona match, there was a stretch where I looked around and realized the best of the 12 players on court was Hanna.  She has been a great doubles player from day one, and the experience of playing and winning national matches is something she'll carry into the rest of her career.  I may have stated this in a previous blog, but she's also really putting together her singles game and knows exactly what she needs to do to take that to the level of her doubles which is exciting for the future of our program.

Speaking of the future, teams get better by playing better doubles and being deeper.  This year, Jenna Gilbert was the poster child for this.  If  you could have seen her getting after it every day in practice and pushing herself to improve win or lose, you would have been as blown away as me.  She's made some adjustments to transition her game to college and we saw it in spurts including a big fall win of the #3 seed at the Fall ITA, some huge exhibition wins over nationally ranked teams Linfield, Lewis and Clark and LaVerne.  All of this on top of her 7-3 singles and 6-2 doubles record shows that she's dangerous now and her future and our teams future is just as bright as her smile that lights up her teammates each day.  Another first year player who found breakthroughs but also has a long way to go before reaching her potential is Lindsey.  With a 7-3 doubles and 15-9 singles record, Lindsey was a model of toughness and hard work.  She expanded her game while competing under pressure.  I was able to coach Lindsey a few years ago at zonals and she is different player, with weapons and options that she's worked hard to build, I can't wait to see where she goes next.  Alex, while not in her first year of college, rounds out our new players and again going back to the depth we have, it is evident in Alex's 15-3 singles and 5-1 doubles records.  Alex is a competitor who has tremendous tools and really worked hard to make the adjustment in transferring as a student and tennis player to Whitman.  She would constantly be talking tennis, teaching tennis or playing tennis and it was so much fun to work with her on harnessing the feel that she has for the game.  She's made some big breakthroughs in controlling the tempo of her play and we can't wait for her senior year!

Joining her as seniors next year will be Jenna and Katrina.  These two have gone from being roommates in Jewett Hall, to productive players for us to absolute stars and tremendous leaders on our team.  Tree was showcasing both her improved balance at the baseline with her always huge net play when a knee injury sidelined her for the end of the season.  Undaunted, she's been both rehabbing and coaching for us and we wouldn't have gotten through the conference tournament final without all 12 players, Katrina being a huge part of that helping coach Morgan and Allie as they won singles to clinch the title.  Jenna has worked hard on her doubles but remains one of our best and the region's best singles players.  She cracked the West top 25 and on spring break, after a week off the court with a nasty virus, she came back to play three awesome three set matches with top #2 players.  The mark of improvement is not just how you can play at your best, but when everything isn't working, if you're able to compete.  That's just what JD has done, she went 7-2 in NWC play and had wins over #1's from Whitworth and Pacific.  She stepped up whenever Courtney was out and has also learned to use her huge work ethic to guide and motivate her teammates.  We've seen big things from the 6'1" lefty as she earned her first 1st team all NWC nod this year after making the 2nd team as a sophomore.

Another all NWC player for us this year was Allie.  Another incredibly hard worker and amazing leader on the team, she played a huge role in singles winning critical matches over nationally ranked La Verne, Linfield, Whittier, UT Tyler and the biggest one being the deciding marathon win over LC to send us to the NCAA tournament.  Allie has some of the best strokes on the team but spent significant time in the off season reworking her serve to add both power and variety, but it is her daily work in the gym that gave her the physical and mental toughness to play as long as she needs to against any style player.  We also encourage leadership from everyone by not having named captains and Allie really benefited by this by being a huge leader in every way for us this year. Her growth has been tremendous and it keeps getting better so I only see her pushing more and doing bigger and better things in the future.

As you can tell, we're working towards saying goodbye to our graduates, but without match results to update and having written a lot already, I'll save that for a separate post.  Still, there is one more player who has been instrumental in this season being so incredibly special.  I talked about everyone leading and Seana has not only been a joy for me to coach and everyone to be around, but she is a model of what it means to be a teammate.  As her tennis improves and she brings her big serve and forehand to doubles and singles, she has stepped up her consistency.  But what I really want to highlight goes back to her leadership.  You need great trust from your teammates and Seana earns this every day with her efforts, sense of playfulness and mostly her loyalty as she'll back up a teammate in any situation.  You also need great communication and Seana is exemplary.  She came to me during the season to talk about next year and her desire to commit more to other interests she has on campus.  As we talked it through, her passion for tennis and the team were so evident.  The most influential people in our lives commit to what they do 100% and while I am so excited to see Seana lead in other arena's on campus with her 100% commitment, we will miss her daily presence and leadership on our team.  I can hope that she rejoins us, but if that isn't the case it will be because she has found and stoked passions in other areas of her life.  So, thank you Seana for two special years, for trusting us and giving 100% of yourself and sharing the big tennis and bright light that you are with us.

So, my next posts will celebrate our seniors moving on to some wonderful things and also look forward to meeting our four incoming players (many of whom have birthday's coming up!).

Thanks for reading and sharing in our special season as we gear up and look ahead to an even brighter future in 2015-2016!

Coach John

Friday, May 1, 2015

Much to celebrate and still lots to do

Allie showing the form that helped her clinch the NWC Tournament Championship
Well sports fans, I hope you were able to be at or follow our conference tournament last weekend.  It was certainly the most exciting I've been involved in as our team was firing on all cylinders to sweep Whitworth 5-0 in the semi's and then the finals and trip to the NCAA tournament came down to the wire as we fought off Lewis and Clark for a 5-4 win.  Any 5-4 tennis match is exciting as the two teams are evenly matched.  It gets even better when the last match on is in a third set so the two players are matched up evenly and if that isn't enough the excitement builds even more when 12 games aren't enough to decide the outcome and there is a tie break to decide it all.  Well, that's what we had and at the same time that I am so proud of Allie's mental and physical strength to pull it out for us, those matches are won by the whole team and everyone who supports us.  It's the practices after a long day of classes, the workouts when your body doesn't want to do anymore, the yoga sessions where we not only stretch, but work on visualization and strengthening the mind/body connection so we're able to focus on that one moment when it happens.  There is also knowing we have people behind us who care for and love us no matter the result, and absolutely having a crowd to cheer on each point is not only exciting, but fuels the fire to make one more shot, set up one more winner, finish one more point.

Your 2015 NWC Regular Season and Tournament Champions...On to NCAA's
We're lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy this intensity together in practice and matches. To have it all come together last weekend at the NWC tournament on our home courts in front of our fans is one of the most special things in college tennis and this hard fought berth into the NCAA tournament means so much to me not just because its fun to win, but even more because we get to keep practicing together with another opportunity to compete and extend our season with the ultimate goal of ending it at the NCAA national championships in Cincinnati, Ohio.

But speaking of special, I can also report that we had our end of season team banquet last weekend and along with enjoying each others company along with our friends and families who were in town, Erin Bell was a rock star in putting together a tribute to this years team and especially our four amazing seniors Erin, Morgan, Maddy and Courtney.  It's so special to know that their careers will continue, but here are links to photos from the weekend by Erin as well as her video from the season.  The photos can be downloaded so please share and enjoy!

Photos on our flickr page:

Erin's end of year video on youtube:

There is even more to celebrate with four all conference players; Jenna and Courtney were named first team and Morgan and Allie second team, congrats!  Courtney also received her third Northwest Conference player of the year award and we also got the NWC Coach of the year honors. You can read about the awards online here.

Next up for us is the NCAA tournament.  With and automatic bid we are just waiting for selection day Monday to see where we'll go and who we play.  Our first match will either be Thursday, Friday or Saturday next week.  There are so many subtle things that could affect the schedule, I'll wait until we get it to let you all know what's happening.  What I can tell you for sure is that practice has been fun and intense as we prepare for our best tennis of the season.

Thanks for all your support!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Celebrate and then Get Back to Work

The team at the Farrell's house

Happy Passover and belated Easter,

This past holiday weekend, our team faced an incredible challenge in coming off of Spring Break and hitting the road to play the two toughest teams (right now) in our conference.  It was all focus and excitement as we built up to this trip and there was no disappointment in either the results or how we got them as we beat #37 ranked Linfield 7-2 and pulled off a thrilling win over #31 Lewis and Clark.

In sports, belief is huge when you play someone of equal talent.  Our team continues to grow and this weekend all of the things we work so hard at each day in practice, through spending time bonding, and in our goals for how we compete with intensity and sportsmanship each match led to the kind of team belief you need to overcome great opponents.

Saturday we took on Linfield.  Always a tough well coached team, they added some serious punch to their lineup with first years at 1,2, 4 and 6!  The young cats competed really well scoring a win at #1 singles and #2 doubles.  Each of these matches was incredibly well played and while I'm sure we'd like a few opportunities back in dubs, Erin and Tree kept to their game and forced their opponents to play an incredible proset.  This year has been a steady uphill climb for Courtney who has overcome illness and lack of playing and practice time to get closer to full strength.  Her form is coming as she split sets with the hottest player in the conference this Spring.  The best part was playing out in the sun and getting 6 doubles matches so our tandems of Lindsey/Seana, Alex/Jenna G and Jenna D and Allie all added to the fun with great energy and doubles play.  This carried into singles where we used all 9 courts and even got a tenth set of play in.  On the day, our depth and resolve was tested but came through as we won the match 7-2 and including exhibitions went 14-2!  Some highlights were Allie righting the ship after a quick first set loss to roll in 3 sets 1-6,6-1,6-0, Alex, Tree and Maddy sweeping the matches indoors while we battled outside and Morgan playing a player she has had trouble with in the past and clinching a straight sets win.

After the match, the Webster's treated us to an easter egg hunt and the Farrell's (sorry Mike, I mean Katie Farrell) treated us to a fantastic dinner with everyone who was at the match.

Easter Sunday was the showdown between the two remaining undefeated teams in our conference and on their 4 indoor courts, we made a strong start going up 2-1 in doubles.  The young Pio's however are tough at every spot and they fought back with 3 wins at #1,#3 and #4 to go up 4-2.  At that point, Jenna having been down 0-3 in the first had come back to win 6-4 and was on serve but up in the second.  Lindsey was just starting but quickly showed she was in control already up 5-0 in the first set and Erin had a close first set where she struggled to find the right plays dropping it 7-5.  So, with three matches on, we needed them all.  Jenna finished off an intense second set for a 6-4,6-4 win over the #20 player in the West region to pull us to 3-4 and Lindsey took the first and was cruising in the second, showing poise beyond her years.  This left the fate of the match squarely on EBell on court one in front of both teams, the home crowd and a very vocal group of Whitman faithful.  Erin embraced the responsibility, settled into her game and was a picture of controlled intensity winning 5-7, 6-3,6-2.  Just before the final point, Jenna G had a great win at #7 in a proset and Hanna came back from an early 2-5 deficit at #8 to win there as well!

Everything we do is building for these moments and I'm so thrilled that the team was able to enjoy the battle, empower each other and truly believe that no matter what the score was, our fight would carry the day.  With this win, we're in the drivers seat for hosting the conference tournament.  We face three teams we've played already and beaten and one we haven't played.  But it isn't just who we play that give me great confidence that we can bring the conference tournament back to Walla Walla, but its that we're getting better each week.  The schedule is below and if you get the chance to watch any tennis in the next three weeks, I don't think you'll be dissapointed.

It also helps to have an incredible support system and our weekend was not only incredible on court, but it was so fun to stay with the Farrell's and Whittaker's.  Katie and Mike's house is like a second home to Jen and I as they are the friends who introduced us and that is where we had our wedding and it was amazing to have them open their home to the team, parents and alums who were there for the matches.  It was very fitting that they did it in a team fashion though, as their neighbors Tom and Kit are Whitman alums who hosted part of the team.  Appreciation is only the tip of the iceberg to explain what it means to have such great community around us and I speak for the team in saying the biggest thank you to these two amazing families as well as the Greenberg's, Webster's, Gilbert's, Brodeck's and McKelvey's who spent their Easter screaming their lungs out with every tough get and huge winner that got us closer to our goal of winning conference.

Here are some photos from our time in Wilsonville!

Thanks everyone for making the weekend so special!
Maddy and Roddick

Our Easter Egg Hunt courtesy of the Webster's

Found Eggs!

Recovering from the matches or the egg hunt?

Thanks to the everyone for being a part of WhitWomen's Tennis, I'm enjoying every step in this journey.

Coach John

Upcoming events:
Saturday April 11th - away doubleheader, at Pacific 9am, at Willamette 3pm
Saturday April 18th - at Pacific Lutheran 1pm
Sunday April 19th - at University of Puget Sound 10am

Friday/Saturday April 24th-25th (location TBD, Walla Walla if we win all our remaining matches) - Northwest Conference Championships

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gratitude, Guts and Great Tennis

I'm not sure I can convey in one post just how special our spring break trip was.  We ended up 1-3 on the trip versus some tough top 30 ranked teams, you can check the WC Website here for results because if I go through each match then this post would be lengthy indeed.  I will mention that while you'll see the incredible matches played by Courtney, Morgan, Erin, Katrina, Hanna and Maddy in doubles and Courtney, Jenna D, Morgan, Allie, Erin, Lindsey and Alex in singles I'd like to highlight that in 3 of the four matches we played at least 4 doubles and 9 singles so all 12 of our amazing players got to compete against some of the best competition in DIII.  I'm so proud of Seana and Jenna G who both got great match play to improve but also notched some wins in singles and doubles.

These trips are such an integral part of our season and you alums will know just how much they enhance the quality of experience we have.  We're so grateful for all the support we have from Whitman but also from donors and fundraisers (yes, Tennis and Campers, your good times go to a GREAT cause!).  Without your help we wouldn't be able to take all 12 players.  It is rare for teams to travel with their entire roster, but for us it is so important to build unity and have this experience of top tennis and time together to bond for everyone.  

It was amazing to feel the dynamic on this team which was already so incredible get even stronger.  This week also brought an overwhelming amount of love and support of families who hosted us, hung out and cheered us on, thanks Marilyn, all of Team D, Bob and Annie, Anne, Ken B, all the Gilbert's, and the Wallin's.  There is also not much better than alums at matches, way to get down from your job in the bay area Hannah Pals!  It's easy to see where our players get their wonderful attitudes from and having you here is something they talked about after the last match as being such a special way to recognize what we do.  I can't say enough how grateful we are for everyone out there supporting us, following tweets, texting in and being there for the team.

Speaking of the team, not only am I fortunate to coach wonderful people, but the level of tennis this week was outstanding.  While we are always striving to improve, each day we left everything on the court.  It might not have showed in the Bowdoin scores, which I'll attribute partly to us just not executing as well as we're capable of, but they showed why they belong in the top 10 as they did little things super well and great consistency.  It was the right match to start our trip as it honed our focus and helped us practice hard on Tuesday (special shout out to Lori, Bday boy Joel and Spanish Hills Club in Camarillo!) and come out Wednesday to get a huge win at La Verne.  The Leo's are a solid team who came up with the goods against us last year and it was a big boost for us as a program to come back from 1-2 in doubles and also to showcase the depth we know we have winning at #3-6 plus at #7,8,9 and #4 doubles.  This was the second top 20 win we've had in my time here and it was a well deserved win.  The next day we had an interesting matchup with Vassar, who also beat La Verne 5-4.  Predictably it was close and with three matches on we were down 2-4, but Erin was up a set and a break and Allie and Jenna had each just split to gain momentum.  Hat's off to Vassar for responding with two third set wins to take the match.  This was our first ever meeting (to my knowledge) between the two teams and I saw a lot of similarities.  Like us, they were intense and tough, but they also had terrific sportsmanship and really nice people on the team, which is something we strive for.

Our last match was another West region showdown at Redlands.  This was the Gilbert family dream as Jenna's sister Alyssa plays for Redlands so I'm glad they got to all be there for the match.  The bulldogs are a seasoned team and they brought it from start to finish as both teams battled hard.  I put guts in the title of this post because our team has so much fight and this match was one where we could have went away, but we battled as usual until the last ball.  That last ball came in Jenna's super tie break at #2.  A week ago Jenna was down and out with a nasty virus, but she bounced back and played three 3 setters in three days - what a testament to her skill and conditioning which is a reflection of everyone on the team.

So, back to gratitude, I have to thank each member of the team for an amazing, fun and memorable spring break.  I'm amazed by how far we've come competing as a unit, and as always, the off court times were full of fun and laughter.  And, as good as the tennis was, we learned a lot and are motivated to get back together and keep improving for the second half of our conference season.

Thanks for reading, and after we enjoy a week off, we'll be back at it with a conference road trip the first weekend in April at Linfield and Lewis and Clark in showdowns of the three nationally ranked teams in our conference!