Sunday, April 20, 2014

Seniors Carry Whitman to Northwest Conference Title

Happy Easter!

I could not be happier with our regular season this year.  Our program has always been about the student athlete experience and player development.  Within this structure, improving each year the goals we pursue have gone up and up.  Two years ago in 2012 we won our first NWC tournament to go to the NCAA's where we beat my alma mater in the round of 64.  Last year we went undefeated in conference play, repeated as tournament champs and went to NCAA's again.  We aren't nearly where we hope our journey in the playoffs takes us this year yet, but this weekend in Portland we finished a perfect 12-0 season in conference and wrapped up our second consecutive conference championship.
HP leads the way here in practice just like she does in matches

The weekend in Portland was special because last year we really leaned on our top 3 players who were all first team all conference and gave us so many points in doubles and singles.  We found out at NCAA's that you need to be better throughout the lineup and I'm so proud to coach a group of talented young women who this year chose to dream big, challenge themselves and do the work each practice and match all year to get better each day at every aspect of college tennis.  As we defeated Linfield 8-1, Willamette 6-3 and Pacific 8-1 the contributions from newcomers Seana Minuth, Allie Wallin and Erin Bell were instrumental along with returners Katrina Allick, Jenna Dobrin, Maddy Webster, Courtney Lawless and Morgan Lawless, but the seniors also really stepped up.

It started versus Linfield where Hannah served and returned with precision and power and made the most of Jenna's huge shots to put away balls at the net; her focus, leadership, intensity and great play got us our first point and the momentum in the match!  Maggie and Liv played exhibitions that day so we had 6 courts going during doubles and while spread out, we could feel their energy as Maggie dropped her match but Liv stormed through hers!  I can't talk about this match without mentioning our Whittie of the Match Courtney who gutted out not just a doubles win with Maddy but also after losing the first set she set her will against her opponent and improved her tennis to take the second set 6-1 and a thrilling 10-8 third set tiebreak!

Liv practices her signature backhand
Saturday was the longest day of the season so we wanted to rest as many players as possible and also get matches for everyone in our back to back with Willamette and Pacific.  Against Willamette, their #1 doubles team came out tough and got more fired up as the proset went along, they played terrific and got a point, so having HP and Jenna's dubs as well as our "freshman dubs" at 3 with Allie and Seana was HUGE.  With the lead and tough matchups at 1 and 2, Katrina led the way to put us up 3-1, Hannah followed being our rock as ever, but she was just a little bit too quick as she finished about 30 seconds before Seana at #6 won her match to clinch the match and the conference championship. Liv followed with a straight set win at #5 and I can't say enough how special it is to go from being a talented but inconsistent performer to the rock that she is for us now.  Seana was so great in singles and dubs she was our Whittie of the Match, it's not easy for a first year player to step in and perform for big points, and Seana did it with tremendous poise and solid play.

Maggie's forehand has become a formidible weapon
After driving through the beautiful Willamette Valley wine country, we arrived at Pacific to scattered showers.  Knowing we had to drive home after and the championship was sealed, the team could have let up; that was NOT the case as we dominated 8-1 and our only loss was an inspiring performance by E Bell at #1 in a 3 set match that had some of the biggest serving and shot making we've seen this year (and we've played some GREAT competition).  It felt like a win for Erin who is steadily expanding her game and comfort zone, we're proud that she earned the Whittie of the Match for her clutch doubles and amazing singles play.

But in keeping with the senior theme, Liv got into doubles and teamed with Seana to get a point at #3 while HP joined with Allie to dominate at #2 giving us the doubles sweep.  All three seniors stepped into singles with HP at 4, Liv at 5 and Maggie at 6.  They dropped 11 games between them all winning in straight sets and to see each of them finish their regular season careers with some of their best tennis was a special moment for the whole team but especially me as a coach who has been with them for four great years.

I asked a lot of this team with our schedule this weekend, but we wanted a quick trip to have as much time on campus as possible and we did that by packing so much great tennis into two days and by winning we'll get more time on campus as we host the NWC Championships, the tournament to decide which team gets the automatic berth to NCAA's.  We'll be at home hosting UPS, Linfield and Whitworth.  Check the Whitman Website for the schedule and I hope to get a blog preview out in the next couple days as we prepare for a run at another championship!

Happy Easter (again) Mom, Dad, Sara, Beth - my whole family and all of our Whitman tennis family.

Coach John

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wonderful Family Alumni Friend Weekend and Final Regular Season Matches

The time does fly by this time of year so I'll give you some highlights from the past two weeks

  • We hosted a wonderful Family, Friends Alumni weekend; thanks to all those who traveled or came to the events locally, it means an incredible amount to have amazing support and love from our families and friends.
  • Chelsea put together a wonderful year in review slide show at our dinner and Jenna wrote a clever poem honoring our three seniors.
  • We hit the courts for a showdown with Whitworth, each of us undefeated in conference play; the match was intense with our doubles stepping up for a 3-0 lead and then winning the first set in 4 of 6 matches a large gray cloud sat overhead dropping rain and pushing us indoors.  Courtney and EBell sealed the deal with quick second sets; Katrina and Maddy followed and both Allie and Jenna grabbed the momentum to win the second set and win in match tie breaks.  In exhibition play, Seana played great to win and Liv got down 4-7 before storming back to win 9-7, what a match!  
  • With the lead in Conference in hand we relaxed and played some tennis with families; it was great to have the Bates women on court, our illustrious alums battling it out and I got to join the Webster family for a doubles set in which Maddy and Bob somehow came away with a victory despite many big shots from my partner Annie.  Maddy forgot how to miss and Bob is deceptively fast in boat shoes and jeans!
This weekend we head to the West side to play Friday in McMinnville vs Linfield who we narrowly escaped from 5-4 at home; then we take on Willamette and Pacific in a double header.  It should be 36 hours of incredible fun, and we plan to get a lot of different people matches as we have already clinched a spot in the conference tournament and are looking to seal our second consecutive NWC Title and host the tournament next week.

Stay tuned tennis fans, here we go!

Coach John

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Second Half Begins. Big Weekend at Whitman Coming Up

Hello friends,

After a wonderful Spring Break trip, it is so good to be back on campus together again.  The joy in this team is the daily work we do and I was hoping we would continue to demonstrate the fruits of that work in our match play.  This is something the team certainly did this weekend at home versus George Fox and Lewis and Clark.

Both teams we have already played with resounding 9-0 wins on the road.  This time, I can't tell you how excited I was to get back into conference play and show that the competitive matches over break have resulted in many players finding a new level in their game.  There were certainly opportunities to play as Friday we rested Courtney to save a match date (she would have gone over from competing in the Fall National USTA/ITA event), Erin was out of town for a family event, and Olivia was taking her senior written exam.

Against George Fox, early rain gave way to mixed sun and clouds and we got to play outside; having 6 courts is a phenomenal upgrade and I still can't get over how beautiful the setting is to play.

No Better Place to Play - the view from the Rose Garden by Maxey Hall

We started out with some different doubles and it paid off in a sweep. Maddy and Tree were focused and aggressive at 1, Hannah and Jenna stayed tough at 2, and our all first year team crushed it at 3!  We carried that momentum into singles with highlights being Maggie stepping in at 6 with her Dad visiting from Maine and taking a solid straight set win!  Allie is back to full strength and is looking great and Hannah also performed in front of her Mom (thanks for coming Tom and Johanna!) with solid wins.  Tree and Maddy showed that moving up in the lineup was no problem as did Jenna who played some wonderful tennis getting a win at the #1 spot, way to go JD!

Saturday was our campus kids day and our young fans were treated to a rematch of last year's NWC tournament final.  LC is not the team they were, but they did get a key player back from injury and it bolstered their lineup especially at 2 doubles where San Francisco natives Katrina and Seana were outplayed to give LC their only point.  It is great to see Tree continue to grow as a leader and confident player; also for Seana I have been chomping at the bit to get her into some bigger and bigger doubles matches.  She has impressed all along and this match is one she knows that on a different day she and Tree have the tennis to win so I'm excited to see her continue to develop.  At one, Maddy and Court dominated and also did things we wanted them to after Spring Break, and at 3, Hannah and Allie outgunned their opponents with solid groundies and aggressive net play to put us up 2-1.

In singles, Courtney was back and dropped one game for a total of 2 on the day; seeing her tennis improve at this point in the season is perhaps one of the most exciting things on our team considering she has been at such a high level for so long.  Jenna took a break and Tree, Allie, and Hannah all kept the focus and efficiently worked through their matches to clinch it 5-2.  On court 6, Seana also rolled through her match, again, something she needed in her game was the composure to play her game against any opponent and when its in the top 6 sometimes people let the moment get to them.  This was a breakthrough for Seana who really stayed consistent mentally and had great energy winning 6-0, 6-2.  The closest match was court 4 where Maddy and her opponent both struggled for consistency in the first set with LC taking it.  Then, Maddy focused and came out strong in the second, going up 4-1 before her opponent stepped up to bring it back to 4-4.  At this point, both big hitting players were finally in their groove at the same time and the tennis was excellent.  Maddy finished off the set 6-4 and took that momentum into the match tie break, winning it 10-4 to give us an 8-1 win and a home sweep!

After the match, we enjoyed a clinic and games with local kids.  It is so much fun to give back and share in the enthusiasm of kids learning the game.  Thanks goes to the ITA and USTA for initiating these events!

We're now 8-0 in conference with 4 matches to go.  This weekend is a huge one as we square off with rival Whitworth who are 9-0 in conference and it marks the first dual match in the Wallin twins careers at their respective schools.

The match is at 2pm Saturday at Whitman and we also have senior/family/alumni weekend.  If you have RSVP'd, I'll be emailing you today with details, if not and you'd like to come, please contact me ASAP and we'll get you involved in:

Friday - Watch practice (4:30pm) and men's match (3pm)
Saturday - Whitworth match (2pm) and Dinner (7pm)
Sunday - Fun Tennis Day (10am)

Happy spring!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Break Recap

Hello out there,

As I write this from the airport so much has happened since I last posted.  First, I apologize, I had a SB2014 preview written up but never uploaded it; I guess having too much fun on court and on our trip is a good thing, but apologies for that.

This season is so exciting for us on the team.  I really see us having turned a corner in how our program goes about our business.  We strive to maintain the family atmosphere, support, sportsmanship and FUN that are hallmarks of WC Tennis.  After two amazing seasons earning a national ranking and competing in NCAA's, we could have sat back and been satisfied or pushed on to see just how great we can be...guess what we chose.

Of course a group of talented, hard working, competitive young women would set our sights high.  It's exactly what I want as a coach of a program that is pursuing the national championship.  So, after showing our depth in conference rotating lineups, we were honored to get scheduled with some of the best programs in the country.  On the trip we went 1-4, posting a convincing win against NAIA Biola, dropping three lopsided matches to top 10 teams but feeling so close that we can taste that level, and then having one knock down drag out match against a team at a very similar level to us with #30 Denison coming out ahead 6-3.

The match recaps can be found on our school webpage thanks to the outstanding work of Jordan Paden and writing by Roy Elia.  What I want to share with you from this trip is a little insight into our family.  I call it family because not only is the team family, but our parents, siblings, friends, aunts uncles, alums and everyone who is a part of our lives becomes a part of our team family.  Our experience this week was amazing, we competed incredibly hard, played outstanding tennis, learned many lessons and had a ton of fun together.  It would not have been nearly the success it was without our families.  Thank you Annie and Bob Webster for unreal hospitality and match support.  We also made a day up the coast and had so much fun with the Dobrin's, who also really brought the positive vibes to our matches.  Anne Bell, Alice Allick and the whole Palkowitz family you guys were all amazing giving us a lift each day and making it feel like home on the road.

To walk you through the week, we finished midterms and powered our weary minds through two NWC victories on our lovely outdoor courts.  With a day off we flew to California for a match with #7 Bowdoin.  The Polar Bears were tough and deep, winning 9-0 with a huge highlight being Jenna's first set against a top 50 player.  She couldn't quite pull out the tiebreak, but with Morgan out, Jenna stepped into the 2 spot and Erin into #3 and both played wonderfully.  Maddy was our Whittie of the Match with intense high level doubles and great maturity and smarts in singles; she is also our most vocal supporter and we love her energy on court as much as her big shots.

After a day off, we started the first Hen Athena Classic in Claremont.  Huge thanks to the CMS and PP coaches and players for opening up their facilities not just for dual matches, but for a tournament of dual matches.  So, while there were not brackets and a ton of teams played over three days, there was a fun evening of food and coaches doubles (CPatt stepped up and we had so much fun playing) as well as sportswoman of the day awards and a championship for the team with the best winning percentage over the weekend.

We started with Denison on Friday.  What a battle!  We could have come out stronger in dubs, but they were really solid and Erin and Tree saved us a point at #2 to keep us in it, then spread out with the 6 singles and plenty of exhibitions, we started clawing our way back (pun intended) as CLaw took her match in straight sets to make it 2-2.  Erin's opponent stepped up and put DU back up 3-2 with a straight set win and Allie was right in both sets losing 6-4,6-4 putting our backs against the wall 2-4.  So, with Morgan, Jenna and Maddy each splitting sets, we knew we had a chance, but needed all three.  The tennis on court 2 with Jenna was incredible and back and forth, Morgan looked strong to start her third going up 4-1; unfortunately, after an amazing second set from Maddy, Denison came back strong and clinched the match at #5.  The remaining matches were split giving DU a 6-3 win.  The match took almost 5 hours of hotly contested tennis.  I hate to lose, but love these intense matches and am so impressed not just with the heart and character of our team, but also with the level of tennis!  Lil Mo was awarded the sportswoman of the day for her amazing effort, playing through pain to win the longest match of the day, all while exhibiting the class and respect that we see each day. Congrats Morgan who was also our Whittie of the Match for her inspiring performance.

Saturday morning was a different story.  Amherst is ranked #4, but is absolutely one of the top teams in the country.  They were clinical in executing in both doubles and singles and it was a match we learned a lot from because we saw in them a more polished version of ourselves which will be motivating as we enter the home stretch of the season.  Bouncing back from a tough day, Erin demonstrated amazing composure both with Tree in doubles and in singles not just fighting but starting to be able to change gears in matches but also trust her usual plays.

Sunday against Pomona Pitzer, we knew we were facing one of the top teams in the West who will challenge anyone in the country and had already defeated Bowdoin 5-4, Redlands 5-4 and #6 Middlebury 8-1.  Undaunted, we came out with intensity and played a match that was much closer than the 8-1 score would indicate.  Certainly, PP plays terrific doubles and carried that momentum into singles, but the tennis was so competitive and was highlighted by a wonderful match at #1 that Courtney pulled out in a third set match tie break.  Seeing Courtney play her tennis is always so much fun to watch and this was a day where she wouldn't have gotten the win without really stepping up and she did that by executing the plays she has worked so hard on in practice.  Courtney was our Whittie of the Match and Jenna was named Sportswoman of the day by the tournament committee for her high level of play, wonderful fight and unwavering positive and respectful spirit in intense situations.  I'm so honored to have so many players who exhibit these qualities daily and to play with opponents who do the same.

The week was a great success and we are proud of what we accomplished but also remain hungry to improve and earn more matches with top teams because we know the breakthrough on the scoreboard is coming.

Thanks again to all of those who supported us from near and far, the families who helped keep us fed, housed and happy and the opponents who shared such wonderful competition with us.

We are off for a week and then host two home weekends and have one more road trip in our quest for a NWC title and to host the conference tournament (we are currently 6-0 in NWC play).

Best wishes to all!
Coach John