Sunday, October 16, 2011

Alabama Recap - Whitties finish 6th at Nationals

Hello everyone,
So, I thought I'd been diligent out in Mobile at the USTA/ITA small college National Championships, but thanks to my Mom who has never been a huge tennis fan but has ALWAYS been amazingly supportive, I realize that the last post I sent was after the play in day, so here is a synopsis of the event. Some pictures are on Jeff's flickr site here.

Winning the doubles play in was huge because it meant both players (Courtney and Alyssa) would play three matches and compete all week for the top 8 spots. This was combined with Whitman Sophomore Andrew LaCava winning a huge play in over the #4 player in the country so we had Whitman tennis morning and afternoon each day. As a coach I want this event to be both a great learning experience that will motivate the players to not only work on their own games, but so they can return home knowing what it takes to beat the best in the country and sharing it with the team.

The first round we had a pretty good draw as 4 teams are seeded and being unseeded we would have to play one of them. We got the #4 seed from Chicago. Two tremendous singles players, both seniors who had played with different partners in previous years. One was the anchor of a two time NCAA championship doubles team so we knew they would be good. However after losing some very long close games to get down in the first set then dropping it 0-6, Courtney and Alyssa stuck with their gameplan, stepped up the intensity and battled to 4-4 before losing a crucial game and then going down 6-0, 6-4. Using match tie breaks to decide the third, it was hard because we were so close to moving into the semis and the fight with our team was definitely there, but there is a reason that they were seeded as they stepped up at the right times and got some crucial points in a great second set.

After a break, we hit the courts again for a late afternoon tussle with University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. This team again had a very experienced senior who is a great doubles player but they came out flat and we ran away with the first set 6-1 playing decent tennis. Unfortunately, decent doesn't really cut it at nationals and UWW got energized and squeked out a break to start the second set, then held with by far their best service game of the day and they took the momentum from there to not let us back into the set. At 0-4, we fought and both Alyssa and Courtney made some good shots and started playing better as a team, but Whitewater was too much and took the set 6-0. So, into the match tie break, I felt good because of how we played the last two games and we got up 2-0 with terrific doubles. Then, a few mistakes had us down 2-4. Suddenly confident again, Whitewater stretched the lead to 2-7. Two solid points kept them from running away with it and it was 4-7 when they stepped up again to earn 5 match points 4-9. Usually NOT a good place to be in tennis, many players will resign themselves to the inevitable loss. I guess ShoPo and Claw have never met those people because after playing very well but being down 4-9 they stepped up even more and it was 5-9, then 6-9. Whitewater couldn't finish as we got stronger and stronger to 7-9, the momentum was clearly on our side to 8-9, then a side change at 9-9 and the feeling was all Whitman. Still, you have to earn it and a great return point followed by a strong serve and volley by Courtney and the improbable had happened, 7 straight points for and 11-9 win! I truly felt for the UWW team, but am so happy that Courtney and Alyssa never gave up and played each point as hard as they could and it paid off!

The final day of the tournament was a battle between the two West region teams, #2 seed from Claremont Mudd Scripps and our WhitWomen looking for an upset. This was a completely different match than any other, as it had the level of play of the Chicago match with both teams hitting great shots and winning points rather than making errors, but it also had a funky feel to it (which I didn't mention the UWW match was full of strange energy). The match was great at times and through spurts it kind of sputtered along but in between CMS did a terrific job doing what they do really well which is rely on great shotmaking and taking advantage of opportunities. I think if we had played more consistent 'good doubles' we could have definitely won this one, but that is easier said than done and while we'd like it back, the score was 6-2,6-2 CMS. Again, great fight from both Alyssa and Courtney as they demonstrated throughout the fall season.

As a team, they are right there with the top teams RIGHT NOW, but they also have a lot of room to grow and so coming off of this experience I look forward to them sharing with their teammates not only what the national level is like, but the confidence that Whitman tennis is on the map and can compete at a very high level. I also give them a ton of credit for how they worked together, supported each other and Andrew as he also claimed 6th in singles (though with an insanely tough draw, playing the 1,2,4 and 5 seeds going 2-2 and winning more games than anyone off the #1 player despite heat exhaustion in the second set when he was up a break).

So, what a way to start the season, we'll go into off season mode now and everyone will take to the courts, the weight room, the library and rest as needed and I'll just get more and more excited for the coming spring.

This weekend is family weekend at Whitman, so if you plan on being here let me know as I'd love to see you. Again, congrats to Alyssa and Courtney on a great nationals and the whole team on a truly outstanding fall campaign.

Best regards,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Play in day at the National USTA/ITA Tournament

Hello from Mobile, Al. As the rest of the field from DIII, DII, NAIA and JuCo arrives to register, warm up and get ready for the tournament tomorrow, the Northwest and Southwest regional winners play off for the final spots in the draw of 8 for singles and doubles.

This is certainly better than all of the Texas teams coming to the PNW every other year and the Northwest teams going to Texas for the regional, but it is a long way for both players to travel and potentially go home. Fortunately, this year it was all Whitman and Trinity so both schools sent men's and women's singles and doubles champs. The day started on the men's side with Whitman Sophomore Andrew LaCava knocking off the #4 player in the country 6-36-1. Cava was awesome and beat a very good very experienced player, what a match by both guys who had both played in this situation before. On the court next to them Alyssa battled Trinity first year McKenzie Knoop. Both players displayed some amazing tennis but honestly it wasn't the cleanest match and McKenzie was a bit tougher at the right times beating Alyssa 6-2, 6-3. I'm excited to see how she does in the main draw as she's a very good young player.

In doubles, the same pair took to the court again with their partners Courtney for us and Stephanie Williamson for TU. After a dominating first game by Trinity, we fought to go up 2-1 and carried the momentum to 5-1 before a gutsy game found us up a set. The format here in doubles is 10 pt tie break for the third so we wanted to keep it going but they stepped up their game to go up a break 4-2 in the second. We held and broke back for 4-4, then held again for a 5-4 lead. Trying to break for the match we got down 0-30 before rolling off 4 straight points for the win. The last one was the longest point of the match with both teams executing great shots before we finally got the point and the win. Tons of credit to Trinity as it was gratifying to see some really good tennis from both sides.

Tomorrow, Courtney and Alyssa play at 1pm CST against the #4 seed from University of Chicago.

More to come from Mobile....
Coach John

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bama Bound Whitties

Hello folks, I’m writing from the Denver Airport on a layover as we journey to Alabama for the USTA/ITA Small College nationals. Each day at the tournament I’ll try to provide twitter updates and recaps. It should be doable with no more than one singles match and two doubles matches per day, but with the Whitman guys competing and enjoying the atmosphere of national competition, I do sometimes get caught up in things and certainly have trouble tweeting without any help from the team.

Here are some links to follow the tournament, on Wednesday at 10am Alyssa plays McKenzie Knoop from Trinity University (TX) for a spot in the final 8. After the two rest, they will take the court again with their doubles partners –enter Courtney Lawless - for the doubles play in which is scheduled at noon but will most likely start a bit later. All times Central.

Whitman Webpage
ITA Webpage

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Whitman Wins Singles and Doubles Titles at USTA/ITA Regionals

Hello all,

It was an amazing trip to Salem, OR this weekend. First, I was impressed with the teams preparation, not just on court, but off in getting ahead on schoolwork, taking and preparing for exams and writing papers. So, needless to say the drive over had some sleepy Whitties.

Fortunately, a visit with alums Divneet Kaur and Hadley DeBree and some amazing food in Portland perked us up and after soon after getting to Salem, it was off to bed for early Saturday matches. Saturday, the forecasted rain held off and we played almost two rounds of singles all outdoors with first round wins from Alyssa, Courtney, Morgan, Emily, and Olivia in the match of the round for us as she split sets and got down in the match tie break before battling back to an 11-9 win, but I guess I've already written about on to day 2.

Sunday the courts were wet and we hoped to get outside but it just never happened, so we had everyone at one club in the morning with great round of 16 perfomances by Alyssa beating a talented first year player from UPS 6-0,6-0, Morgan downing Willamette's #2 player and 8th seed Sabrina Guiterrez 6-2,6-4 and Courtney handling Kaila Nip from Linfield, the first year who beat Emily in round 2 6-0,6-0. Alyssa and Morgan continued their path to a semifinal showdown with wins over Shannon Palmer from Willamette (#6 seed) and unseeded but tough Caroline Brigham from Linfield. Courtney, however ran into defending finalist and former champion Abby Olbrich from Linfield who was seeded #1. This proved to be one of the best matches of the day with Abby bringing amazing intensity from the start, jumping out to a one set lead. Courtney, stayed composed and made the adjustments she needed to to win the second set 6-3, but Abby won the big points and close games in the third to take the match. Everyone who watched knows that there will be a ton of great tennis from our tough Texan.

And....those people didn't have to wait long because the doubles began with C Law and Alyssa rolling to the finals with 8-1 and 8-3 wins over quality teams from LC and Willamette, what a showing from the first year and her junior parter! Our other main draw team of Emily and Morgan faced the #2 seeds from Linfield and the doubles was very good, but some big plays from Linfield had them down a break 0-3. From then, Morgan held and it was on serve (maybe trading a break) to 4-8 which showed that Em and Morgan can play with anyone in the conference (which I knew from practice, but is great to see in a match).

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the consolation doubles began and ended with back to back to back to back 8 game prosets. First year Whitties Erin and Maddy fired up their intensity and aggressive doubles to roll into the semis where they played great quality but lacked the consistency to beat a good team from George Fox. All in all, not only was it a wonderful learning experience for these two, but they can absolutely play at this level and if its even possible to be more positive and fired up than they are every day, I think we'll see that in the upcoming months! Our final doubles tandem was the reunion of last years #3 team of Lizzy and Hannah. Whoa, they were good last year, but with the same communication and improved movement, shots and confidence, they absolutely stormed through the consolation bracket, fighting hard when their opponents played well and taking it to them when they didn't. I love seeing Whitman out there late in the day battling for championships and it is even more gratifying when you see that all the hard work these players put into growing their games pays off, congrats to Lizzy and Hannah!

Ok, Monday. Day 3...Semis...finals...championships. In a first for me as a coach, on the final day I did no coaching in the morning as the team watched from the balcony above and Morgan and Alyssa played a very high level of tennis against each other. Weathering a very strong start from her first year teammate, Alyssa managed to get to 3-3 in the first and then settled in from there to win the match 6-3,6-0, which was really all Alyssa because Morgan may have let up a tiny bit, but her tennis was very good to the end, I was so proud of both of them. Alyssa then moved on to a final showdown with Linfield's Abby Olbrich. In a battle of the 1 and 2 seeds, this time it was Alyssa whose fitness and consistency were absolutely fabulous. The ballstriking and court coverage by both players was unreal and it seemed as if almost every game was very close, and certainly every point was a contest of will, strategy and skill. Alyssa was tremendous at playing her game the entire time and it paid off in a 6-2,6-4 win and a trip to Mobile, Alabama to represent the Northwest at the USTA/ITA Small College Nationals! She'll also gain her first singles all-American status to go with last years doubles honor.

Speaking of doubles, the day wasn't done as Courtney was hungry for more tennis and she and Alyssa again played Abby Olbrich, this time with partner Caroline Brigham. It was a really good match, I actually can't describe it too well except to say that all 4 players executed very well and while there were some nervous shots at times, whichever of the 4 players hit it, bounced right back with great tennis. The team play of our #1 seeded team at the end of each set came through as they earned a 7-6 (2), 6-4 win. The chemistry between them was great and they communicated and moved very well. So well, that they will keep moving on to Mobile where they will compete at nationals.

I'll post more details on next weeks event, but for now, its a day of rest and then back to practice both with our new All-Americans as well as the rest of the team who did a fabulous job playing, supporting, and getting to know each other even better. This is truly a special group and seeing the new players personalities on the road for the first time is always a highlight for me and this group was unreal with how much they cared for each other, respected each other and enjoyed each others company right from the start.

Thanks to Katie Oost and Hadley DeBree for acting as assistant coaches for the weekend, you were both amazing. Also to Div, the Rolstons, Jen, Liz Bates and the Robergs for cheering, running errands and making this a fun family weekend for all!

Sorry to you alums who I missed in Walla Walla, let's all keep in touch about future events!

My very best to you all,

John "Proud of each Amazing Student Athlete" Hein

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Day 1 Recap From the USTA/ITA Regional

Today's big fall tournament got off to a great start for our team with strong performances in singles and doubles. Alyssa led the way in singles winning two matches to go through to the round of 16. Joining her there are Courtney and Morgan. Tomorrow at 830, Courtney plays Linfield first year Kaila Nip who took out Emily in the the second round while Morgan goes against Sabrina Gutierrez of Willamette. Soon after will be Alyssa against the winner of Kiana Nip and UPS first year Kira Kearsley.

Other Whitties to make it through the first round were of course Emily and Olivia in thrilling fashion, winning a close first set where she stayed super composed, then after dropping a second set and going down 6-9 in the super tie break for the third came back to win 11-9 for her first win at a Fall USTA/ITA tournament! Hannah was nearly as fortunate after jumping to a one set lead over George Fox's Shaina Inn before splitting and losing an extremely tough and well played super tie break 8-10. Then, HP took care of business in the first round of consolation while Lizzy and Hadley fell in first round matches and bounced back for big wins in the consolation bracket playing 8 game pro sets.

In doubles, first years Erin and Maddy had amazing energy and played really good tennis but a few very close shots and points had their Whitworth opponents out to a quick 4-0 lead. From there, each game was hard fought with both teams earning points rather than making unforced errors, but some great shotmaking by Whitworth and a couple missed opportunities found us down 0-7. Not to be deterred, Erin served big, down match point hitting a huge ace on a second serve, then holding and breaking for 2-7 before Whitworth finished it 8-2. There is a lot of game in these two and I can't wait to see them continue developing because they are both great players and do so much with their maturity and leadership already.

More first year leadership was found in Courtney and Morgan who each teamed up with upperclassmen(women?) for two rounds of dominating doubles to put both teams in the quarterfinals. Again, they do it on and off court as they know how to compete and have fun and it is wonderful for me to be on the road and see even more of their personalities and poise.

We were at two sites, so I did not watch Hannah and Lizzys doubles but Coach Hadley reported they had a great streak of high level play but early and late spells knocked them out in the first round, though I love seeing that their level is as high or higher as a team than it was at any time last year, which is so exciting.

More tomorrow if I'm not too tired; and I'm loving the families/alums and supporters who are here with us, this is starting off to be a wonderful tournament and we hope to continue it tomorrow.