Monday, September 26, 2016

Short but sweet, it's Fall ITA Regionals Week

Hello out there!

I'm trying to get a post out weekly and this past week we had a week of recovery, learning and training after the WC Fall Invite.  The team is diligently working on schoolwork to get ahead for the coming weekend and have kept up their fitness and tennis with some really solid practices.

We look to up the intensity this week as we get ready to host the Fall Oracle ITA Regional this Fri, Sat, and Sun.  It is a phenomenal event with all of our conference teams bringing singles and doubles players.  Winners are automatically all-American and get into Fall Small College Nationals!

In terms of running the tournament, coaching and keeping everything going, it can be hard to update results, but I will do my best via twitter @whitwomentennis and on the WC Website on our schedule page.

The schedule (if dry) is to play on all 10 Whitman courts outside and inside

Friday 9am until done - 2 singles rounds followed by 2 doubles rounds
Saturday same as Friday
Sunday - singles main and consolation semis and finals, doubles final.

Looking forward to some great tennis!


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

It has begun! WC Fall Invite Kicks off Whitman's Season with Excitement

Our fall season always consists of great practices, team building and often one tournament, the Fall ITA Regional.  This year we hosted the first annual WC Fall Invite, a singles and doubles tournament with top 20 NAIA Lewis-Clark State (ID), and D1 Eastern Washington and Seattle University.  It was a fantastic weekend of tennis with all four teams very close and competitive, which is exactly what we needed to continue our growth.

We set up 2 flights of singles and 2 flights of doubles to get each player 3-4 singles matches and 2-3 doubles matches in 2 days.  Saturday, we had rain all day and enjoyed the brand new blue and yellow surface in Bratton and it was phenomenal!  Everyone played great with big wins, close losses and so much great intensity.  As we grow, we need these experiences to push us forward.

In the yellow flight, our depth shined on day one with Linds and Lori teaming up for a first round doubles win and a thrilling 5-7 no ad set loss to eventual champions from EWU.  Both players have worked so hard on doubles and Lindsey demonstrated tremendous leadership which will give us so many great doubles options this year!  On the singles side of the yellow flight, it was a first round Whittie sweep with both Lori and Linds rolling through their first round before intense tough nighttime losses that each will learn from and use for fuel going forward.  Our final player in the yellow draw was Hanna who worked hard over the summer and it showed as she rebounded from a 5-7 first set to win 6-3,10-6 in the super tie break over a D1 player from Eastern.  Not done, she faced EWU's top new player from Belgium and used her intensity and composure to make the right adjustments and pull out another three set victory in another 10-6 match tie break!  Overall, Hanna was 4-0 on the day joining with Mary in the Blue flight doubles to roll in the first round, then dominate the #1 seed in the semis to make the finals of the top flight.  What a day for Hanna to celebrate her off season commitment to her tennis!

In the Blue singles, Mary took on the #4 seed and fell in a super tie break for the third, also showing her improvements from last year and the summer.  She rebounded for a consolation win to go with her big time doubles with Hanna.  After a summer working and studying hard, Allie played great tennis in both singles and doubles and these matches will get her match fitness up for the fall ITA in two weeks.

Day two so early in the season is an important one for us.  We had some terrific performances and some places to learn and grow.  After a really long day indoors Saturday it was great to move outside and it was a fantastic day for each player to learn about how they compete and build as a tournament progresses.  Even matches we didn't play our best we were able to gut out wins and competitive scores - both terrific indicators of our character, talent and focus.

Along with our doubles and depth, a huge highlight of the weekend was our lone first year player, Andrea Gu.  Andrea fought her way through day one singles and in the semi's took the first set from the top seed, EWU's #1 player.  Despite being outplayed in the super tie break, Andrea came back in the third place match to battle and find her tennis to beat the #4 seed 8-5!  What an exciting start to her Whitman tennis career!

Read our web recap here

Now, as we learn and get back to work in the classroom, on the court and in the gym, I am so excited for our next tournament, also at Whitman!

We host the Fall Oracle ITA Regional Fri Sep 30-Sun Oct 2nd, welcoming the best singles and doubles players from our conference as we compete for the regional championships which bring all-American status and a trip to Fall Nationals.

Let us know if you'll be in Walla Walla in two weeks for the Oracle ITA Regional, and if we get live streaming up indoors I'll let you know!

Warmest wishes from Walla Walla,
Coach John

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome

Hello WC Tennis Fans!

Well, its a new year and after a summer off of blogging, I wasn't sure if Whitman would have a new mascot yet or not.  Going forward the Missionary will no longer be the mascot, and the plan is to have a new one by 2017, so for now, the blog will keep this name and address.

Getting some early doubles work in on our new surface in Bratton!
And of course spending most of our days outside!

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome everyone back from summer.  There were many adventures, some great training and tournaments but a lot of variety of work, rest, travel, training and play.  What is so great for me to see is that each year I've been at Whitman, our first practice back has more depth, quality of play and the overall fitness just gets better and better.

Our other excitement comes from comings and goings.  Jenna came over during orientation to see her teammates, but is now safely landed in Spain for her semester abroad.  It is one of the awesome things about D3 that such a dedicated student athlete can still get this experience is incredible.  We miss her but are so thrilled for this opportunity she has.

I would like to officially welcome two new members of the team.  I'd like to welcome our new assistant Coach Brian Elliot. Brian comes from Eastern Washington, most recently living in Liberty Lake after growing up in Colville and playing #1 at Whitworth.  He has coached at clubs in Texas and California and brings a wealth of experience and so much passion for the game and team tennis, we are lucky to have Brian.  He's already dove in on court and with video for technical and tactical development.

With Tree and Jenna D. graduating last year (btw congrats on the respective moves to NYC and LA!!!), we have big shoes to fill through development, but helping on the recruiting side is the arrival of first year Andrea Gu.  Andrea is from Coquitlam, BC, spent 3 years of high school in Shanghai, China and now comes to Whitman ready to contribute right away.  She brings a spirit of engagement and positivity that resonates so well with our team.  On court, she is ripping the ball and working hard right away.  All of this from our highest ranked recruit ever, a 4 star top 150 in her class on, Andrea has played nationally in Canada as well as having great success in the USTA PNW section.  This year she stayed home a lot playing adult open tournaments in BC which will help her maturity and being ready for anything on the court.  I'll also welcome her parents Donna and Gary to the Whitman family, its wonderful to have you and Andrea is fitting in wonderfully right away.
Andrea at convocation - ready to start classes

While the excitement is high with the team, this first two weeks at Whitman have been different than any other I've experienced.  Our community is saddened by the loss of classmate and friend Josh Fishman.  Our thoughts go to his family, friends and loved ones and there has been a unusual combination of enthusiasm with grief throughout the past week.  In these times, as one player put it, we feel gratitude for our health, each other and the opportunities we have - I couldn't have said it better; thanks Mary.

Our first competition is a week from Saturday when we host a singles and doubles tournament with LC State (ID), Seattle U, and Eastern WA here at Whitman, the WC Fall Invite Sep 17-18th.

Then, two weeks later we also host the Fall Oracle/ITA Regional Championships here at Whitman Sep 30-Oct 2nd (Fri, Sat, Sun) - if you're in the area, come on out, if you're traveling to watch some great tennis, we'd love to see you!

Warm regards from Walla Walla,
Coach John

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.