Monday, September 21, 2015

A very exciting Fall USTA ITA tournament

Hi everyone,

We just got back last night from our first tournament of the year.  The fall USTA/ITA regional championships were hosted by Willamette, you can find draws at this link.  It was a phenomenal weekend for us.  Being on the road in Salem was so great for this team.  We knew in practice and hanging out on campus these first few weeks that the chemistry was terrific and to witness the quick integration of our new players was amazing!  I mention that as a key point because this year 4 of our 10 players are first years and the adjustment to college tennis is a challenge of time management as well as mental and physical toughness.

Well, we found out what I had thought from training....that we have a top notch group of players who are all incredibly talented in singles and doubles and are so tough physically and mentally.  On top of that each of them as good as they are has so much room to grow and the focus and determination to elevate their games.  And the best part is what we already knew, that each of them is a wonderful person; I am so proud to coach players who carry themselves so well, representing the team and Whitman college with the utmost respect and sportsmanship.

On the court, day one was terrific.  Mary, Jana and Cello worked their way through two straight set wins to all make the round of 16 as well as the quarters of doubles.  Day two they continued their collective run with a win getting to the quarterfinals before each of them lost tough but winnable matches against the #1, #2 and #3 seeds.  The tournament is much deeper than it's ever been because the matches they won to get to the quarters would have probably gotten at least one to the finals many other years, but its better to have great competition to drive the next phase of our training.  Lori was the only Missionary to drop a first round match, but she made up for it, winning four matches over 3 days all in straight sets to claim the consolation championship.  It is a huge adjustment coming from China and after a nervous start, Lori settled in more each match, with the finals bringing arguably her cleanest tennis.  I am so happy for her to have this team experience as part of her education, but also to be enjoying her tennis so much.

With Katrina rehabbing her knee still and wearing her coaching hat for the weekend (quite well I might add!), Allie, Jenna, Jenna, Lindsey and Hanna all took to the courts and our sophomores teamed up in doubles after their consolation championship last year.  Lindsey and Lil J rolled through their first round and looked terrific in their second match vs the #2 seeds.  It was one of those matches where both teams played great and the points were terrific, but some close misses by us and a few big plays by them over the course of the proset determined the outcome.  Lindsey has improved her doubles game so much, hitting smarter balls from the baseline to set up Jenna and then being huge at the net.  Lil J has always had great doubles instincts and is making plays more and more consistently which is exactly what she needed to do, so each has such exciting doubles ahead of them.  In singles, they each stormed through their first round, then Lindsey played well against the #1 seed, but moved into the second round consolation where she rolled to the finals and battled back in a pro set from 4-7 to a tie break at 8-8 which didn't go her way, but the work she put in over the summer is showing in singles as well as doubles.  Lil J upset the #15 seed in round 2 and after a terrific first day, never really found her shots playing her teammate Mary in the round of 16, but her improvement is incremental and steady so after telling her each day at practice that the work will pay off, it is great to see that it did because on day one she was a boss out there (Coach Maddy's words, thanks Maddog).

Speaking of growth, after a first year where she demonstrated her doubles prowess, Hanna was back in action in singles with a solid first round win and an incredible match against the player from LC who Allie split with last year.  Even though the match tie break was 9-11, Hanna proved what she's been showing in practice, that she's got the focus to be just as tough in singles as in doubles.  She and Allie came in hot at the #3 seed in doubles and had two good wins on day one, but had trouble finding their rhythm in the quarters vs the #6 seeds.  The way they fought and gave themselves a chance even though their plays weren't as sharp as they'd like is going to win them a lot of matches.

Allie in singles has worked so hard and really had a tough draw.  After blitzing through the first two rounds, she squared off against the #2 seed and played aggressively the way she wanted to, but her laser shots which so often find corners and lines were ever so slightly off and her opponent wasn't giving her any room to make errors so it was a tough match.  The thing I measure Allie on though is her mental game and I'm not sure I've ever coached a player who has improved so much.  This translates off the court as she is so engaged in everything with the team and on a team full of leadership, Allie stood tall this weekend as she does each week.  Don't let the result fool you, Allie is primed for an amazing season.

Finally, Jenna D, our senior on the courts seeded 4th in singles and 7th in doubles (with Cello) was a model of leadership and determination.  Like many of her teammates, she cruised on day one in singles, though she and Cello really had to bring it to get out of the second round of doubles against a tough Linfield team.  Day two in singles started well with a tough straight set win over a very nice new player for Pacific and Jenna looked to be cruising with a 6-3 first set over a Linfield freshman.  Then things turned a bit as her opponent caught fire and she found herself down 2-5.  Of course, its Jenna so where many players would have given up the set, she dug in and fought through I don't know how many deuce games to 5-5 before some big tennis from her opponent got it to 5-7.  The third set she started great up 3-1 then the momentum shifted back and she was up against it 3-5.  A final momentum shift was earned through Jenna's hard work and willingness to not only bang from the baseline but come up and finish at net and she carried that all the way to the finish line in a 6-3,5-7,7-5 win!  On short rest, she came back with Cello to battle the #2 seeded doubles team and they played a brilliant match of smart tactics, big shotmaking and most of all wonderful communication and chemistry to earn a trip to the semi's.  I think that next match as the sun set may have been one too many in a long day of tennis as our level dropped a bit, but really what happened was the team from LC stepped up and played brilliantly.  Some of the points were so amazing all the fans had to cheer for all four players on numerous occasions.  After a terrific battle, LC moved on to the finals where they won and will represent the NWC at the small college nationals in South Carolina.

Jenna's singles semi Sunday morning was one that the score doesn't show how good it was.  Both players battled a bit of semifinal nerves but both did well to keep the level high and most points were won with positive play as unforced errors were few and far between.  In the end it was a 2-6,1-6 loss to the eventual champion who played a wonderful tournament beating Allie, Jana and Jenna before upsetting the #1 seed in the finals. Jenna demonstrated that her game keeps expanding and that any day she is right there at the top of our conference in singles and doubles.

All in all, we couldn't have asked for better tennis, better weather and most of all better company.  The team was terrific enjoying and supporting each other and our families and friends who cheered us on were amazing.  The Dobrins, Greenbergs, Gilberts, Lockwoods, Val, Amy and Jen enhanced the meaning and fun of this weekend.  It was also really cool to feel the presence of those of you who weren't there but were connected with me and the team through following results, checking in and supporting these terrific student athletes.  None of this weekend could have gone so well without Katrina's coaching and support and Maddy's incredible transition from player to coach.

Next for us is some rest! but also some training as we apply the lessons from this weekend in practice for the next two weeks.

I've also received some fan clothing orders and I'll (or maybe our OUTSTANDING assistant coach Maddy) will send out a final request for orders.

I hope you're all well and that I've been able to give you at least some idea of how great this team is this year and how fortunate I am to be a part of it.



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

First week of practice and Fan Clothing Orders


I can't help but feel predictable in my inconsistent writing frequency.  I'd meant to check in after our first practice of the fall last week, and then the second and the third and so on.  Then, I thought, oh I need some photos of the team but all of us were so engaged in what we were doing on court I just didn't get as many as I'd like, but what I have is here.

Lori serving at practice
This leads to the two things I would say about this years team: First, the engagement of everyone, from the returners, to all the new players, Maddy as a coach and even Katrina rehabbing her knee - everyone is right there from the start to finish of every day which is making it so much fun.  Secondly, there is an intense drive to get better each day.  People worked hard over the summer which showed when we ran the mile and the beep test.  It was also evident on court as the level of play is phenomenal.

So, now that it is week two, we're settling into a nice rhythm and making the most of each day together in this short fall season.

Our only scheduled competition is the fall USTA/ITA regional hosted by Willamette in Salem Sep 17-20th.  I won't know until a few days before but everyone will play singles and we'll have 4 doubles teams.   Matches start Friday morning, go all day Friday and Saturday with the tournament finishing Sunday afternoon.  I'm excited some of you will come, if you'll be there and haven't been in touch, let me know we can't wait to see you and you'll be in for some exciting tennis!

I'll send more details when they are finalized.

The beautiful Whitman Courts with some awesome singles going on.


I'll be putting in t shirt, hat and visor orders, so email me if you'd like to order one, most will have to be made so if we get orders by 9/20 then we should have them in October.

We'll have "WHITMAN TENNIS"  T shirts in Navy, Yellow or White ($15)  and Nike Drifit hats and visors in Navy or White ($25) 

If you have ideas of fan gear you'd like us to make for you - let me know!

Coach John

Here's some pics of the team at Walla Walla Food truck night!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Introducing Madison Webster

About five years ago I got a letter and a DVD from a high school player in Long Beach, CA.  She had no ranking, not a single USTA tournament result, so her tennis was hard to assess.  Her letter to me, however, was very impressive; quite thoughtful, full of excitement, and very well written.  Still, no matter how great a person someone is, they still need to be able to play to earn a spot on the team.  Then I watched her video...okay I thought, she's got great technique, seems focused, but a video rarely tells the story of who a player is in a match or what they'll be like day in and day out at practice.  Then I get to her references, and there is a quote, "I can promise you that you will feel blessed to have her on your team".  Not bad as recommendations go, but coaches often get sentimental about their players (see pretty much every blog post I've written).  But this coach just happened to be college coaching legend and current USC coach Peter Smith.
Maddy's recruiting DVD - nice graphics, no wonder she rocked as an Art Major

One of the best things I've done in 8 years at Whitman is recruiting the heck out of Maddy Webster.  She turned out to be a terrific player and an outstanding leader on our team.  So, this summer, I started recruiting her again and I am so thrilled to announce Maddy as our assistant coach for 2015-2016.

Maddy brings to the team an incredible understanding of how our team works.  Her personality will be tremendous in recruiting and in developing the technique and tactics of our players she will add so much.  Her coaching experience started with every summer going home and working with Peter coaching at his academy.  She volunteered here in Walla Walla to teach tennis in schools and in after school programs.  This summer she taught private lessons and directed youth programs at Whitman through the City of Walla Walla Parks and Rec.  She also worked this summer as the first ever intern for our joint fund raiser with the Whitman Men's team, the Walla Walla Tennis and Wine Camp.  In that capacity, Maddy's organizational ability, teamwork and problem solving were so strong that she often finished her administrative work and jumped on court to coach.  Even with the best players, (4.5-5.0 adults), Maddy demonstrated great confidence, knowledge of the game and feel for helping players improve.
Maddy doing some coaching for the team last fall

Maddy is a huge asset for our team and I am so happy she's here with us this year.  You can reach her at

So thank you Peter Smith for your recommendation, I couldn't agree more that we are blessed to have her on our team.  I hope you don't mind if I copy it in the future when I'm writing references for Maddy.
The 2015-2016 Whitman Women's Coaching Staff

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Welcome Whit Women of 2019!

It's that time of year, campus is starting to buzz - travel is happening and orientation is around the corner.  I've never been one for formal announcements of our recruiting classes, so this is as close as I'll get right now.  This year, we bring in a very talented (ranked #18 nationally by but also really well rounded class.

Jana Klages-Miller, Whitman 2019
Leading the way on paper, is our first 3 star recruit ( since Courtney, Jana Klages-Miller.  Attending Reynolds high school in North Carolina, Jana competed the strong Southern Section of USTA tennis.  Her results have been great and reflect her intense focus and competitiveness.  It's really the combination of clear direct focus on tennis and school combined with a silly and fun sense of humor about everything else that really drew me to Jana.  You'll also see my recruiting style reflected in this class; while I certainly do my homework on their tennis, we don't have the budget to travel outside of the Northwest for recruiting, so we're lucky to have results, great coach recommendations and mostly the personality of each recruit to go by.  You can read more about Jana's personality is that perfect combination of hard work and fun that will make her a force to be reckoned with right away while her desire and commitment to keep growing her game are something I'm excited to be a part of for the next four years.  Another thing Jana has is a twin! Unfortunately, Nora isn't as smitten with tennis as Jana but don't shed a tear for her as she explores college from a different viewpoint at St. Andrew's in Scotland.

Mary Hill, Whitman 2019, at her ceremonial signing day.
She's with her dad Mark (left) and high school coach Mike Shaw.
Mary Hill is a 2 star recruit from Des Moines, IA, but in Universal tennis ratings, she is our top recruit.  Mary's results in the Missouri Valley Section show that she can play consistently at a level that should be able to help our lineup right away.  Perhaps what is better is that she has loads of untapped potential and a feel for the game that either comes naturally or takes years and years to teach. She's been successful in school at Roosevelt High, taking part of her curriculum through their honors program and part on the main campus in Des Moines.  I love the calm in Mary's game.  "Quiet Hands" and dynamic balance are a coaches dream and allow her to do almost anything she wants with the ball.  These play a huge part in her doubles success, winning back to back state high school doubles championships.  As calm as she is on the outside, there is a fire and excitement in Mary that is primed to explode as we all find out just how great she can be.

Cello Lockwood, Whitman 2019
More known to me is our local recruit, Caroline (Cello) Lockwood.  Cello was an instant hit on campus.  I wanted to hang out with her all day, but the team beat me to it and her ease on campus and with the returners will allow her to be a leader on and off the court from day one.  Cello brings a ton of confidence, is a terrific competitor and has a big game that she knows how to control.  Like Mary and Jana, Cello could be one of our best players right away, she's another 2 star recruit but has wins over players who are among the best in DIII.   Cello is such an athlete and competitor that it is impossible to gauge her ceiling as a tennis player and as a sparkplug for how we compete as a team.  She's the kind of person you just want to be around, her game is explosive and fluid and I can't wait to spend more time on court (and off) with her.  To learn more about Cello, here is an essay she wrote to win a World Team Tennis Leadership Scholarship.

Linqi (Lori) Sheng, Whitman 2019
Finally, our wild card is Linqi (Lori) Sheng.  We're still not sure how well we'll pronounce her name, so she may go by her English name Lori, but Linqi is the first recruited player for our program from China (and maybe the first in Whitman athletics history).  She has a beautiful game with a smoothness and tactical awareness of her favorite player, Roger Federer.  Her personality matches up with her tennis which in our sport where you can't hide from yourself so if you fight your nature, you're in trouble.  I say she's a wild card because there is no competitive reference for me from the players she trained and played with in Qingdao, China to who we have here in the US.  But, as with our other incoming players, her personality, goals and desire to do the right things to have an amazing college tennis experience made her one of those players you "have to have" on your team.  The fact that she is a baller doesn't hurt.  She's actually traveling right now with her parents up the west coast to see much of this part of America before landing in Walla Walla next week.  We can't wait to welcome our new international player and enjoy her individual personality, but also her perspective on the world that will undoubtedly be different than everyone's in a way where we can all learn from and enrich each other.
Okay, how do you tell without meeting someone in person they are perfect for you program.  Let's start with the grades and test scores to get into Whitman; add in school til 5pm so late practices every day, sprinkle on the most sparkling positive personality (thank you Skype) seeking every adventure and opportunity to grow and finish with a hip hop dance group.  I rest my case.

This is a class with talent, experience competing at a really high level, and most of all the balance of diverse personalities who all share a common love of team and tennis as an integral part of their college education.  I can't wait to start practice the first week of September and get to know everyone even more!

Welcome Linqi, Mary, Cello and Jana and your families;

 you are the present and future of Whitman tennis and are now part of our growing family!

-Coach John