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

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Hello and happy summer everyone!

The time certainly flies by with different projects going on; for me mostly fund raising and recruiting, but also preparing for an exciting season to come.  I must admit, however, that I've been dreading writing this post and have put it off for weeks and weeks.

Why would I not want to write about this team?  In 2014-2015, we not only had one of our most successful campaigns on court finishing #22 in the nation and advancing to the second round of NCAA's, but somehow, someway, this experience just keeps getting more fun and rewarding.  On top of that, the topic I'm writing about, our seniors - excuse me - graduates, is the reason we had so much fun.  But, how amazing they are is exactly why it is so hard to write and say goodbye to them.

During Maddy, Courtney and Morgan's four years at Whitman, including the past two with Erin, so much has happened.  We earned our first national ranking in my time here, we qualified for the NCAA's for the first time and in our first round in 2012 we defeated my alma mater UC Santa Cruz in what was one of the most special moments for me as a coach.  This was followed up by three more NCAA trips, but also three straight Northwest Conference championships.

Along the way, Courtney has become arguably our most decorated player ever (Lynn Greer McKelvey might argue that point...).  A three time NWC player of the year who qualified for 3 NCAA individual singles championships and 2 NCAA singles championships, she finished the year nationally ranked in singles and doubles each of her four years and is Whitman's first 7 time ITA All-American player (4 doubles, 3 singles).  What is so amazing to me is that if I had to define Courtney, it wouldn't be as an individual at all, but as the ultimate team player.  Whenever I planned a practice or made a lineup decision, in talking to Courtney, her response was always intelligent and showed huge caring for her teammates, but it always included, "whatever is best for the team, I'll do".  This is who Courtney is, and her passion for friendships and teamwork is a legacy that will endure on this team and in my heart much longer than her long list of on court accolades.

Morgan isn't without her own list of accomplishments.  As a two time ITA All-American and three time all NWC performer, Morgan was also Whitman's Senior performer of the year this year.  Despite missing significant time her junior year due to injuries, as a senior Morgan joined the Century Club, winning over 100 matches during her career at Whitman.  Anyone who spent a single practice or watched a single match of Morgan's will tell you that beyond being a talented player, she has the heart of a lion.  Morgan is the kind of competitor who inspires with her effort and will to win.   She brings all of herself to everything she does and was instrumental in instilling a team wide desire to want to win and do everything to win but without sacrificing sportsmanship, generosity and kindness.  For all of the accolades earned, neither Morgan or Courtney ever seemed concerned with them.  And that focus on the process of what it takes to be not just a good, but a better and better player, teammate and person is what truly makes these two so special.

We see this same quality in Maddy.  I remember when the three of them were in their first college tournament, playing singles and doubles at Willamette and the twins asked Maddy if she'd checked in yet for her match.  "What, I have to check in?"  Maddy's response was priceless because in high school she had chosen not to play USTA tournaments and had no idea what to do.  Her independence and determination to constantly experience new things isn't uncommon at Whitman, but to have this without giving up the training, dedication, focus and competitive edge it takes to play at the level she does is something I've never seen before.  Through her years at Whitman, Maddy was integral to everything we did.  On the court, she learned singles tactics and how to use her aggressive game to win us matches, but it was always doubles where she really shined.  Playing every position in the lineup and being ranked as high as the top 10 in the West region in doubles (I'm not sure she knows how close she and Courtney were to going to NCAA individuals their junior year), Maddy has been one of our best doubles players on a team that excels in doubles.  But it is the way she found ways to lead us, to be both incredibly supportive and loving but also so direct and efficient that in many ways made her not just a leader, but a captain and in this past year very much a coach.  Maddy would win a HUGE doubles point (7-3 record vs nationally ranked teams as a senior), lead us vocally through the match, and then promptly find us food and make sure each and every person was taken care of recovering and preparing for the next match.  As I think about it, I'm still in awe that she did all this and made it look so easy and fun. I know that everything she did made my job an absolute joy for the past four years.

Speaking of joy, having the opportunity to coach and build a relationship with Erin is one of the most incredible things I've done at Whitman.  I love how genuine the amazing young women I coach are, but Erin takes it to another level.  She knows herself, pushes herself to grow and is very direct and up front about what she wants, needs and has learned.  Change can be hard, but Erin realized that it is what she needed and transferred to Whitman as a junior.  Making the most of every day with the team, in her classes and in our community; it was incredible to see Erin have a clear plan of where she wanted to go and how she wanted to get there.  It was always the toughest matches that Erin was the most pumped up for, and that she played the best in.  How she rises up to challenges fits perfectly with her busy, quirky, fun, intense, loving personality and will make her an amazing teacher.  She is already starting her first year of teaching middle school this year as part of her grad program at Notre Dame.  As EBell becomes Ms. Bell, I couldn't be more proud.

Each of these four is an example of someone who came into college with great academic ability, tremendous tennis skills and the qualities of a teammate anyone would want to be around.  That none of them was satisfied and they all attacked their tennis, their academics and their personal growth with the same fun intensity they practice and play with every day is indicative of the very best of our program and of Whitman.  I'd like to say one more time how incredibly fortunate I feel to be their coach, to have had the time we've had and to look forward to the times ahead.

Thank you Erin, Morgan, Maddy and Courtney.  You have enriched the lives of so many around you and not only brought great years to our program, but like so many wonderful players before you, you've left the program in a stronger place than it was when you arrived - you are forever Whitties and our family just keeps growing and getting stronger.


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