Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A season to celebrate and to build on

It is with no small amount of emotion that I write this blog post.  As a coach, you often find yourself thinking and feeling in opposites.  The end of a terrific season is one of those times.  This year has been unbelievable, and to be part of an experience this special requires a lot of emotional investment of the players and coaches.  This season was one of unknowns; how would we react to graduating such an amazing class in 2015? what would our new players contribute, how would the chemistry and work ethic be.  In short, how good of team could we be this year both on and off court?

While much can (and will) be said about the incredible first year class, the leadership that graduated with Maddy, Erin, Morgan and Courtney was irreplaceable.  This is where our system of not naming captains, but having everyone find ways to lead and take responsibility paid off.  Our upperclassmen, Jenna, Katrina and Allie had really been leading for a year or two, and longer in many ways.  Our sophomores Lindsey, Jenna and Hanna were all used to responsibility and each was ready for more.  So, from the fall, The steady leadership of Jenna and Tree combined with Allie's daily drive and their shared commitment to bring everyone together was evident from our success at the fall tournament, carried into their great off season work and we picked it up in January for Spring practices and matches.

Lori doing the move that in China is called "The Cat"
This isn't to say it wasn't a journey.  Each new player brought not only talent, but also incredible individuality.  Lori was adjusting to not only a new school, but American life and a rigorous education in her second language. This absolutely took time, but we saw that as she adjusted, we got more and more of her personality which is so incredibly positive, fun and energetic.  At the same time as she settled into the culture of our team and campus, her game settled and she finished the year with the best record on the team in singles (15-1) and a new confidence and desire to use those skills in doubles.

Cello showing off her wheels and one hander
Cello's transition was a stark contrast to Lori because she is so outgoing and friendly that being from Seattle, she already had many friends at Whitman and the tools to play with anyone from day one.  That doesn't mean that she grew less, in fact, in many ways, Cello's development this year is one of the most remarkable of anyone I've coached in my career.  Her desire to grow her game and to integrate her intense fiery competitive nature into being a positive and supportive teammate were big departures from her junior tennis.  I don't think most players could take this much on successfully, but Cello had a great season, earning all-conference honors, playing better doubles as the season went on and building a foundation that will allow her game and contributions to the team to skyrocket in the years to come.

Hard work and smiles...Jana has it all
Another pillar of our future is Jana.  Jana is everything a coach could ever ask for; an incredible player, unreal athlete, and a team player to her core.  Jana started with a great fall, making the quarters of singles and dubs in the fall USTA/ITA regional.  She too was committed to making some changes in her game that will take her to an incredible level and she continues to work diligently to align the parts of her game and develop a style that she can count on day in and day out.  I felt so lucky as a coach for her to understand this and to have a team with such depth that we could take some of the pressure to perform off of her and let her work her way into college tennis.  Still, she dominated in doubles with a 10-5 record to go with an 11-6 accounting in singles.

Mary's all court game translated right away into singles and doubles
Mary finished the season tied with Allie for the most wins on the team (32 combined singles and doubles) and she played the whole year in the top half of the lineup at 3 and 1, but mostly 2 singles and all at 1 doubles.  Mary has an ease to her personality that makes it fun to be around her, and an ease to her game that allows her to adjust to the situation and make the shots and plays needed on that day.  With such early success, what was remarkable was how much she improved certain areas of her game.  Her great play was rewarded with first team all conference honors and regional rankings in both singles and doubles.

As a class, it is such a joy to know that this group has come together and learned so much.  They are incredible individuals who through the season figured out not just how to improve individually but how to make each other better.  They also have such wonderful personalities that complement each other and allow them to become great friends but also push each other.

A defining aspect of our season was how we competed nationally in DIII.  With so much turnover in the lineup and so many new faces, in many ways our season and success were defined by the play and leadership of the sophomores.  Jenna, Lindsey and Hanna all stepped up to help lead us to 5 nationally ranked wins, solidifying our program in the top 25 and showing we can play with anyone any day.

Hanna's awesome forehand
Hanna was a rock in doubles for us.  It is amazing to think that she was the only player from our doubles lineup last year that was in it this year.  Her big serve, solid ground game and huge play at the net not only got us a dozen wins at the #1 spot and she and Mary a top 10 regional ranking, but those attributes in practice every day rubbed off on her teammates, giving us 4 doubles teams that could play with anyone any day.  Hanna also worked hard on her singles and had some great performances, but what I really appreciate is how good she got at bringing it every day in practice and in any match opportunity she got.  I have no doubt she'll keep getting better and it will be so fun to see what she does on the court.  She also sought a big leadership role and while her energy and support has been incredible from day one, now as a sophomore she has really begun to understand how to share her incredible passion, sense of humor and vision for how good this team can be.

Lindsey rips a forehand in a huge 3 set win over LC
Another type of leadership is lead by example.  Lindsey does this in every way every day.  She takes care of herself so well and balances school, tennis, and an incredible amount of meaningful volunteering and it shows everyone that if  you are disciplined you can do so much with your education.  After a very successful first year, she absolutely lifted her game in singles, improving her shots, fitness, and getting more and more confident with different aspects of her game.  Maybe the most fun was seeing her become a force in doubles.  Her patterns and shot selection last year were so dialed in for singles, and as she has integrated the right plays and great finishing at the net, her doubles play has been tremendous.  She and Allie came together and finished the year with 5 straight wins including D1 Seattle U and nationally ranked Linfield and Lewis and Clark!  The LC team was ranked #23 in D3!  I'm so proud of Lindsey's balance but intense work ethic and how she knows herself.

Jenna's heavy backhand
Something so special about this team is how much they appreciate the opportunities they have and realize how fortunate they are to be students at Whitman.  The are also keenly aware of the life lessons that college tennis teaches and how while we are having a ton of fun and building amazing relationships, that competing together allows us to experience success and failure in a safe place where we can pick each other up.  The whole concept of competition as a process we undertake with our opponent rather than just being about winning and losing is so important to me that they understand.  I am so fortunate to coach Jenna (Lil J for another week...then just Jenna or J Rae).  The way that she competes is so true to what sports should always be.  There is an intense ferocity and desire to win that pushes her, yet she balances it with the utmost respect for her opponents even in the most heated moments of battle.  And after the toughest of practices or matches, wrestling with all of the emotions that tennis requires, Jenna inspires me with her true appreciation for her efforts and her opponent.  She always wants more from herself and is willing to fight for it, but as much as she wants her best and to win, she never seems hung up on the result.  She reminds me daily of what it means to compete and play sports and why it is so valuable to do.  On top of that, her game has really grown in consistency and her identity in singles and doubles is as strong as her heavy groudies and it paid off.  With a 14-5 singles record and 10-3 doubles record its amazing how focusing on improvement rather than results is often the best way to get great results.

Allie doing work from the baseline
Speaking of results, Allie had an incredible year going 18-7 in singles and 14-9 in doubles.  One of the most dedicated, hard working and caring players I have coached; Allie leads in many ways on and off the court.  She is hugely involved in SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Council) on campus and was recently elected to represent Whitman at the conference level SAAC.  Allie finds so many ways to bring the team together and make our presence felt on campus involving us in community service and campaigns like, "It's on US" taking a stand against sexual violence.  On the court, the extra practice, weights, and diligence lets her rip her shots all day.  Where she's grown the most is in doubles, really knowing the court better each week and becoming a great partner and finisher as well as having the big reliable serve and groundstrokes.  I already mentioned the tear she and Lindsey finished the year on and there is more to come in her senior year!

Finally, it is time that I write a final player post and welcome Katrina and Jenna as Whitman Women's Tennis alumnae.  These two got paired to be roommates as first years in Jewett Hall and the bond created was instant and has only grown stronger.  It's hard to imagine being more proud of two people as individuals and as teammates.  They allow each other to have their own journey of tennis and school, but the first person always there when they need it is the other.  Two of the most genuine, nice, caring and loving people I've been around, they both have the ability to achieve at anything they set their mind to, but also find ways to enjoy balance in life.
Team D - Family within Family

I am so inspired by what Jenna has done as a student athlete.  She worked constantly to build a singles game that has no weaknesses and so many strengths.  This year, she was hungry to step into the #1 role and every practice there was no doubt who our on court model for success was.  In matches, she got to play the best players in the country and every time she was right there.  We saw her best tennis as a senior and the level of play as she put the final pieces of attacking short balls, finishing at net and controlling the baseline with a variety of patterns.  She has been ranked #13 in the West region most of the season where she currently sits and can be proud of the results, rankings and mostly the feeling of playing such wonderful tennis.  Of course, this singles momentum was building, and it was her success in doubles which was just as gratifying.  Not wanting to volley or always having good targets with her returns in previous years, JD was an absolute monster at the net this year.  Her poaches and huge overheads ate up the middle of the court and her money lefty serve and ripping returns kept teams on their heels.  It is impossible not to feel great about Jenna's legacy at Whitman and again she was honored as first team all-NWC for her 4th all conference award.  Jenna plans to head back home to Southern California and pursue a career in TV where she loves combining her skill for economics with the excitement of the entertainment industry.

Katrina, as an art major, recently installed her thesis.  If you're on campus the next two weeks, definitely go to Olin Hall and check it out. I don't know tons about art, but I was blown away by how thought provoking, powerful and still very approachable if even fun and whimsical her thesis is.  She'll be heading east to the big apple to see where her talents in various media and creativity take her.
Alice and Katrina - so much support and love to celebrate!

This year was equally inspiring from Tree on our team as she worked incredibly hard rehabbing from her knee surgery in the fall and was at every practice coaching and engaging with the team.  After sad news from her surgeon in January that her timetable of recovery wouldn't allow her to play this year (she would have been in the fast part of the range of recovery times, but we were hopeful nonetheless), it was incredible to see Katrina take charge of her overall health and well being.  Sometimes as an athlete, taking a step back is the hardest thing.  It is even harder when its not by choice.  Katrina handled this as an opportunity and true to our team values of being together as a team but also supporting the needs of each individual, she took some time away from the day to day practice and matches.  But, because Tree is so special and has such power as a leader and friend, she stayed connected and continued to forge bonds with the first and second years who made up most of the team.  When she was ready she came back to practice and coached at matches and this allowed her to give so much more to the team.  Katrina probably has the most vocal perspective on tennis and competition and her ability to get everyone pumped and keep the belief high at all times helped us in immeasurable ways have the wonderful success we had this year.

We will miss these two so much, but I'm incredibly excited to celebrate their graduation and see what they do next in life.  In fact, there is so much to celebrate this year with great success on and off court, but there is also more to build on with the talent, desire and teamwork to take another step forward next year.

If you've gotten this far, thanks for taking the time to read this post.  Often I think writing this is more for me than you.  It's a way for me to reflect and enjoy how meaningful this 'job' is.  I'm so happy for every moment we had this year and am beyond excited for what is to come next year as this young team becomes seasoned and builds off of the great year we had this year as well as everything the program has been through in the past.  I hope you've enjoyed this look into the lives and tennis of these truly outstanding women.  They are the model of talent, determination and teamwork that any coach would love to have.  I'm glad I'm that coach.


PS  HUGE thanks go to all the support teams out there; our families, friends, alums and campus community are second to none, we love you all.  I could not enjoy this whole thing so much or work to give the team such a great experience without Maddy as an amazing talented and incredibly passionate assistant coach.  Every year seems to get to be more fun and rewarding, and for that and everything else she does to love and support me and be family to the team, thank you Jen, I love you so much.

Monday, April 18, 2016

It's Playoff Time!!!

Hello Tennis Fans!

It is that magical time of year when we celebrate what we've done and look to the coming weekend of playoff tennis.  Our journey this year has been incredible as we have come so far and learned so much.  With a challenging national schedule and three D1 matches in there, we have passed many tests to remain in the top 25 nationally in D3 and are building our momentum for the days ahead.

Our final tuneup for the postseason came with two resounding conference wins over Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran.  We played a terrific match against UPS and fought through a slow doubles start to gut out a 2-1 lead and roll through singles versus PLU to get an 8-1 win.  It was also an incredible experience to play D1 Seattle University on their home courts outside in Seattle.  With families, friends and alums cheering us on, we had a great win by Allie and Lindsey at #3 doubles and Cello and Jenna were right there at #2 while their #1 team did a great job against Hanna and Mary.  In singles it was Allie again getting us a point with a terrific 3 set battle.  But every match was terrific.  Cello and Jenna each had really high level tennis with Cello coming back from 0-4 in the second to push it to a tie break, it was so good seeing how both of them competed and hit their shots so freely.  Mary had a slow start but then went toe to toe with a great player at #2 and the final matches on were battles from the start.  Lil J went up 3-0 before her opponent cut down errors and hit bigger as the battled each set 6-3,6-3.  Lori was last on and after dropping a close first set, found a way to break her big serving opponent for a 7-5 second set and she carried that momentum into the match tie break.

From our previous D1 matches where we competed but couldn't get points, this was a big improvement and shows the hard work the team has put in.  We also couldn't be more excited to play the conference tournament right now where we have wins over two of the teams and from a 2-7 loss early to Lewis and Clark, we are headed in the right direction with a narrow 4-5 loss a couple weeks ago.  We are certainly focused on Linfield who has everyone healthy and is a great team deserving of their national ranking so I hope you can come watch us play in Portland this weekend as we look each day to enjoy the moment and extend our season!

Championship Schedule at Lewis and Clark College

Saturday, April 23 - Semifinals at L&C

10am                 #1 Lewis & Clark vs. #4 Whitworth
Not before 2pm   #2 Whitman vs. #3 Linfield

Sunday, April 24 - Championship Match at L&C
10am                     semifinal winners

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Saving the best for last....or is it just getting started

Hello everyone,

Today at Whitman is Whitman Undergraduate Conference Day.  If you're not a Whittie and don't know about this event, it is one of the things that makes our liberal arts education so special.  Without graduate students at Whitman, our professors (who are experts in their fields) need help conducting research and value teaching so students do a ton of work at a really high level.  This ranges from senior seminar papers/projects to a senior thesis to research or study conducted by students with professor or student grants etc.

The bottom line is that Whitman students do amazing work and one day a year the college stops classes and the whole campus is involved in presentations of this work.  Today, Jenna moderated a panel themed, "Our town, Our times" and gave a presentation on a project she did titled, "Who's Framing Whom? Critical Analysis of Jay Z and Beyonce Meeting the Mona Lisa"  How's that for an econ major (who has passed her senior exams!!!).  During the all campus lunch, Cello who plays in the Jazz Ensemble performed at the Reid Campus center, so there is music, science, social science and just about everything you can think of students doing...what a day!

Okay, enough excitement about school, last weekend we had a one match and following a great week of practice, we played our last home regular season match vs Pacific.  This is a talented team that we knew would be tough, especially at the top of the lineup and in doubles.  Through the years, I've seen teams go through matches relying on depth or talent and the result is often good, but the goal of our team each day is to use every minute we have together on court to keep improving.  Sunday was an absolute celebration of that attitude.

We got out quickly in doubles sweeping the three counting matches plus the exhibition where Lil J and Jana played brilliant attacking doubles to win 8-0.  All other teams won 8-3 and our habits are really coming out!  In singles, there was no drop, rather we stepped it up with the dangerous 1-3 matches all going our way in straight sets.  I'm so proud of Jenna as a senior to play two brilliant sets in front of friends and teammates at 1.  Mary and Allie were just as good at 2 and 3. Cello and Lindsey rested while Lil J and Lori were efficient at 4 and 5 and Jana started strong, hiccuped a bit in the second set and reset herself brilliantly to take the third set 6-1.  Hanna went inside for an exhibition and was the first done 6-0,6-1.

I'm incredibly proud of the team on and off the court, we have more fun each week as they get used to the habits or competing together as champions and growing together each day and week.

This weekend we have an exciting weekend in Tacoma/Seattle.  If you're in the area, let me know as we'd love to see you at matches and are working on a team/supporter dinner Saturday night in Seattle.

Saturday we play at 9am at UPS then go to Seattle University for a showdown with the D1 Redhawks.

If you'll be at the matches or are interested in joining us for dinner Saturday night, please email me at heinj@whitman.edu

Sunday we play PLU at Sprinker Recreation Center in Tacoma at 10:30am.

This is the final regular season matches for our team and then we play the Northwest Conference Tournament.  More info after this weekend, but in all likelyhood we will travel to Lewis and Clark where the Pios will host the top 4 conference teams.  We would be slated to play in Portland at LC Saturday 4/23 at 2pm in the second semifinal of the day.  The finals will be Sunday 4/24 at 10am with an NCAA bid on the line.

We hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Family/Alumni/Senior Weekend in Walla Walla

It was an amazing weekend of tennis. Our Wonderful WhitWomen demonstrated awesome improvement and after a 2-7 score the first time with Lewis and Clark, we had a terrific hard fought, well played 4-5 match that came down to 3rd sets at 5 and 6. Our sophomores showed how good they are with Hanna leading Mary to a strong win at 1 dubs and Lil J and Lindsey fought side by side in gutsy 3rd sets, Linds fighting through cramping to win 6-4 and Jenna coming incredibly close in a tough 4-6 third set.

Our family/alum/senior dinner was so special thanks to the planning by Coach Maddy and the amazing hosting of Christy (Lindquist) and Jay Krutulis. Thanks so so much! The team put together a great tribute for Katrina and Jenna.

The whole crew at dinner..more photos on the flickr site

This team plays such amazing tennis, but it is so special to have amazing support from our alums and families. Thanks to locals Jayne and Jim, Jay and Christy, and Kate KP for coming out as well as the Schuellers (WC superfans and super smart math profs).
Sunday we bounced back in a big way, taking down a very tough George Fox team who we beat 6-3 in February. This time we got the doubles sweep and carried it to an 8-1 win. This team continues to show that they learn from EVERY experience and can apply it to the next match. Cello, Lori and Jana were especially on fire, all winning singles and dubs in convincing fashion. For Allie and Lil J, they also got double wins, which is super tough against a good team the day after leaving every bit of physical, mental and emotional strength on the court the day before before LC. I'm so proud of each and every player, without all of them we would not be the team we are or be in such a great position to continue this special journey together.

Our families who traveled included Jana's dad Heath (sorry, Dr. Miller), the Gilberts, the Wallin's, the Dobrin's, Alice Allick, Val Brodeck. You're all so wonderful and to all those who couldn't make it we missed you!

We're working (well mostly Maddy is) to make this a special event each year, so to have alums Amy K-P, Steven Ly, Seth Dawson, Emily Rolston all come out and share great times with us was so special!

And most of all, anything I'm able to do to help this team improve, learn and have a good time happens because Jen is so loving and supportive.

Thanks everyone.


Upcoming events:
1)Sunday 4/10 10am Home vs Pacific

2)Saturday 4/16 9am at Univ Puget Sound
Saturday 4/16 3pm at Seattle University
*Team/Family/Alum/Friend Dinner TBA in Seattle - contact John if you're interested!

3) NWC Championships (Likely at Lewis and Clark if they win out)
Saturday 4/23 Semifinals (probably 2pm?)
Sunday 4/24 Finals 10am
*The playoffs are elimination so this is what we've been working for, to play each match as our last and extend our season into the NCAA's and see how far we can go!