Thursday, March 29, 2012

No excuses..No regrets

Hi all,

I absolutely have no excuse for not updating the blog during and after an amazing week in Texas.  I won't recap each match in full detail, but I've posted some pics on flickr that I took and several Sandy (Morgan and Courtney's mom) took and we also took some video but uploading that is still beyond me.

Texas BBQ at the Lawless house
SSTX Legends
The week started a bit nervously for me from an organizational and competitive standpoint.  Whitman has two week break and each year having some time off during the long season and with the academic rigor of Whitman has been great for the team.  But this year it meant people flying into Austin from Washington, Northern California, Southern California, Maine, Washington DC and Hawaii!!  Needless to say I was so relieved when everyone arrived safely, then we got lucky missing some thunderstorms and had a wonderful practice at St. Stephen's Episcopal School's Tennis Academy.  As our hosts for the week, Carlos and his coaching staff were so welcoming to us and Mark and Sandy as our Austin parents were unbelievable, making Texas Hospitality something we will all remember fondly.  The level at practice was so good that Seth and I were very fired up despite some ominous weather.  Tensions were relieved, however, by a fun afternoon exploring Austin and an amazing dinner of Texas BBQ at the Lawless house.

Maggie driving a backhand
On Tuesday we split the team up and Seth took a group to play a very tough team in Temple JC.  This was a big challenge but I had wanted to see many of our players step up to higher lineup spots against a quality opponent (though from results I wasn't sure if they would be as strong as they were in years past) and the match really provided that as we were defeated 8-1 with Maggie scoring a win at #6 singles.

Lizzy and Kate Warming up at UMHB
At the same time, 8 players were at #15 in the West University of Mary Hardin Baylor (UMHB).  We came out firing and this team was not as strong as we had expected but they still battled as we won 8-1 and took exhibition matches at 4 doubles and 7,8 singles.  It was also great to see Courtney and Alyssa beat a doubles team who has been to nationals, a great start to what would prove to be a big week for them individually.

Mini dubs at SSTX
The saying goes that everything is bigger in Texas, well that must be because Texas itself is so big.  After one more great SSTX practice, we drove 4 hours to Dallas and checked into our hotel full of Thai food and thoughts of two more DIII regional matches the next day.  Well, we woke to rain and our 9am match got on at 2pm.  It was vs. Hardin Simmons at UT Dallas.  UTD is a crazy place to play this year as they are doing construction right next to the courts.  So noise, wind, some rain all could have led to an upset with us coming in at #10 in the west and HSU unranked.  Having discussed mental toughness all week, they showed it taking care of HSU 9-0.  This match was followed immediately by a much tougher UTD team, but with Sara and Kate at #3 we swept doubles and during doubles Liv started her #6 singles match.  It was good they started early because it was getting dark, dropping rain that looked like it could end the match and Liv's points were super long and patient.  She managed to overcome both the elements and her opponent for a straight set win.  Courtney won to clinch and then as it got darker and darker (the lights honestly didn't do too much to help and many were out), we found ourselves splitting in all 4 matches and in almost a collective relaxation form the days mental efforts, we lost 8-10, 10-12, 9-11, 5-10 to win 5-4.  Still, it was a relief to get two team wins and get off court after a long strenuous day.
So much Texas...Erin, Maddy, Em

Driving 2 hours to Tyler the next day was a piece of cake and a rainy spring in Texas made for gorgeous scenery and wildflowers.  We had time to hit and eat before taking on #8 ranked UTT on their home courts.  In the warm sun we kept our doubles going with big wins at 1 and 2 and a close loss at 3 to go up 2-1.  Courtney had the challenge of playing her "triplet" who was born in the same hospital on the same day as she and Morgan. It's not easy to play someone you've known and been friends with for your whole life, but Courtney is tough and pulled it out.  Alyssa, Morgan and Maddy also won is 2 sets for a 6-2 lead with Emily losing in 2 sets against a super tough player and Kate dropping a third set tiebreak.  What a day to get a big upset on the road against a very good Tyler team.

HP and Maddy at UMHB
This carried us into our final day of the trip.  The Trinity match.  If we had won all our DIII matches, we knew the #2 team in the West and #13 in the nation would not only bring great tennis and intensity, but also the opportunity to really move up in the rankings.  Alyssa and Courtney absolutely set the tone playing some of the best doubles I've seen from any DIII team that I can remember to beat the #2 team in the west.  More than that, their energy carried to Emily and Morgan who scored a huge win at 2 to put us up.  Maddy and HP got down early and fought back bravely, but against a big serving team it was tough to get that final break back.  Still, up 2-1 and confident, we quickly went to 3-1 with Courtney winning, then Kate lost to level the match before Alyssa won and Morgan lost.  So, with 5 and 6 just starting (we only had 4 courts to start as we were sharing with their men's match), it was 4-3 Whitman.  Emily played so well and bravely and I'm not sure more than a couple games didn't go to deuce so belief was high even though she was down a set and Maddy was as well at 6.  The freshman stormed back with the teams cheering on their players and as Em lost her match to level it at 4-4, Maddy started the deciding 3rd set.  It was truly great tennis between two first year players and Trinity's Steph Williamson fought through the opening 3 games to get a 2-1 lead and was able to carry it from there.  Trinity erupted in joy with a 5-4 win and our team was right there for Maddy and Emily.  During all this intensity Lizzy and Erin were trying to stay focused at 7 and 8 which is something I commend them for and that makes us such a great team as we are always working on every aspect of our tennis and teamwork.

Getting together after Trinity was a mix of emotions, but mostly there was a sense of confidence and pride.  We talked early in the week about how to play as a team with no regrets.  It is one of the hardest things to do in an individual sport that is so physically and mentally demanding and in all of my years I can't remember a better display of championship tennis.  Hopefully, we are able to learn what we can continue to do better, but without regrets we are confident that we can play with top 15 teams which is a huge step for Whitman Women's Tennis.

I can't thank enough Carlos at St. Stephen's, the Rolstons and Dean Snider for traveling watching and supporting us as well as the friends who stopped in along the way.  A Texas trip isn't common for us (about every 4 years), and this one was one with amazing tennis where the team also had so much fun together, and I must give extra thanks to Seth for his work on and off court and of course to Mark and Sandy for everything throughout the week.
The team with Carols at St Stephen's

I can't wait to see many of you at family/alumni weekend.  Please email me with RSVP's or questions and I'll get a schedule out in the next couple of days but please know you are invited to watch the home matches, join us for a Friday dinner at 5:30pm after the 11am Linfield match and for family/friend/alum tennis after the Saturday match vs. Willamette.

Texas forever,

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tuesday 3/20 Matches in Texas - time change

Our matches tomorrow will both be played at 2pm as we are split squading vs Temple JC and U Mary Hardin Baylor; Seth will take a group to Temple and I'll have a group at UMHB.

Both Matches at 2pm CST.

Thursday, we play back to back on the UT Dallas Courts at 10am vs Hardin Simmons followed by UTD.

Here we go!

PS, some new photos on flickr 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A week off...and a Texas sized preview

Hi everyone,

I'm sorry I didn't get around to posting anything after the Lewis and Clark and George Fox matches.  These came at the end of our academic week leading into Spring Break at Whitman.  This is typically a very tough time as students are hammered with papers and exams before break.  That is on top of the fact that we've played about half our conference season and have trained hard and played matches through a time when the whole campus seemed to be sick at some point.

While wary of this weekend, the character and mental strength of our team shined through as brightly as the warm sun that had us playing outside while Ankeny field was full of relieved students finishing up for break.  At this point, the team overall is healthy and getting physically stronger as evidenced in some outstanding practices through the week, so there was no need to rest anyone, but with our tremendous depth and Lizzy away taking some exams for her Teach for America job next year it was an a great weekend to get more players in the lineup and on the court.

You can read about who played and the scores on the Whitman Website, but I will say that we came out really well against LC, playing really good doubles and fighting super hard whenever they tried to make a run or things got tough.  It certainly did at 3 dubs, but Sara and Kate dug deep and the team cheered them on to comeback from 4-7 and win it in a tiebreak.  In singles, to speed things up, we played outdoors and inside so Seth was coaching outside as Courtney, Alyssa and Morgan held down the top three spots while Maddy made a successful #4 debut.  At #5 inside I saw HP play brilliant tennis to stay in control from the second game on.  Erin jumped in at #6 and she definitely struggled a bit, but showed how big her heart is and what a player she is when she turned it around in the second set and then won a close match tie break 11-9, she always seems to find a way, which I truly admire in her even more than her big serve and great groundstrokes.  Olivia, like HP was super efficient and the way she manged both her own emotions and shots earned her the Whittie of the Match.  Maggie got another close match in, losing in a match tie break, but showing that when she stays with her game, the result is great tennis.  Thanks to the Whitties, profs, families and community members who came out on a gorgeous friday to watch and support us.

Saturday was tough not to suffer a let down as campus quieted down for break and George Fox came to play.  At every doubles spot it was a battle, but we took all 4 with 1,3 and 4 winning 8-6 while HP and Maddy took control at 2.  I like how they played so well together after just a couple of practices.  It has been a huge challenge to find the right doubles teams and the team all wants to know who is playing, but with so much depth especially in doubles I know that we are much stronger as a whole by having so many people get chances to play in the lineup and with different partners.  In singles vs Fox, it was just as much of a grind as doubles.  Staying focused was tough and to their credit they put a ton of balls in play and made us earn just about every game.  This isn't always as fun as blasting winners or hitting hard and forcing errors early, but up and down the lineup we did what it took to succeed.  Some highlights were Sara at 5 and Hadley at 6 coming back from competitive first sets to fight out close second set wins and each carry that momentum into match tie break victories.  Unfortunately, at #4 (which may be Fox's toughest spot right now), Erin ran into a seasoned player who made her work for every single point and again I am super proud of Erin's fight, she has a terrific game and her effort is unbelievable.  While she was dissapointed to not force a third set, sometimes these matches don't go your way and I know she'll learn from this match.  On a day when many struggled and overall we did an outstanding job focusing through it, Kate earned the Whittie of the Match for staying super focused and always positive in both singles and doubles; it showed in the results as she and Sara beat a solid doubles team 8-6 and she won at #3 singles in straight sets over a very talented player, great job KKP!

Now, with our two week Spring Break, everyone has a week off to rest and get ready for a huge trip to Texas.  I'll try to keep you up to date via the blog, facebook etc, but the weather could force us to delay matches or alter times a bit as they are getting some much needed rain after a drought year last year.

Our schedule right now is:
9am at Temple JC (Temple TX),
3pm at U Mary Hardin Baylor (top 15 NCAA West Region)

time TBA, probably 9am - Hardin Simmons University (at UT Dallas)
after HSU, UT Dallas

4pm at UT Tyler (#7 in the West)

10am vs Trinity University at UT Tyler (currently #25 nationally, but should move up in this weeks ITA rankings)


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Whittie of the Week...and Whittie of the Conference

I am so glad the team honored Charlotte as our Whittie of the Week, she has been so amazing as a senior leader and at our first home match she was on top of everything from kids day to cheering on her teammates to a sweep of Pacific. Great job Squeaks!

And on court, Sho'Po was named the Northwest Conference Student athlete of the week as she teamed with Courtney for a big #1 doubles win and also won in straight sets over one of the top players in the conference from Pacific.

We've been practicing outside this week in great anticipation for Friday and Saturday's home matches which should be our first outdoor tennis of the year, gotta love being East of the Cascades and getting so much sunshine!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

First home match and a huge team effort

Before talking about today's matchup between us and Pacific, I must first go back to last weekend on the road in Tacoma where we not only won all our matches, but had an amazing time seeing friends, families, and alums. A huge thanks to the Finkleman's for their hospitality, to Katie Oost for helping make Saturday and Alyssa's birthday special and to Jessica Antilla-Aguilar and Dena Wessel for cheering us on!

Lil Mo driving a backhand
Finally on our home courts, it was a nice enough day for tennis, but knowing how the temperature drops this time of year when the sun goes down, we slated our 4pm match for indoors.  The atmosphere in Bratton was great, with many students and faculty watching and cheering us through doubles and many local kids coming out for campus kids day.  The whole team was great with this event, but Liv, Charlotte, Mags and Sara were extra awesome as they stepped up to make sure things went smoothly and that kids not only saw great tennis, but got pizza, prizes and racket stenciling.

We have been talking about how to bring the right energy into a match and today with 4 first year players in the doubles lineup in front of their home crowd for the first time, there were certainly a few jitters, but on all three courts our teamwork and practice paid off as we were up in every match.  Emily and Morgan set the tone at 2, with an amazing display of smart but aggressive doubles, calmly taking an 8-0 win to put us up 1-0.  With many more deuce games, the freshman duo of Erin and Maddy came through when it counted each time to follow with a big 8-1 win at 3.  1 doubles was a bit scary because the Pacific team is two seniors who have played together for 4 years and have always been one of the top teams in conference and each year they get wins over the highest ranked teams.  Still, Courtney and Alyssa traded games to 2-3, then tightened things up to roll to 6-3, then 7-4 where they looked poised to put it away.  Then, as can happen in a proset, a couple things that they usually do really well just didn't happen, then Pacific played some great points and suddenly it is 7-7.  Not to be denied the doubles sweep, they came together as a team, played their game and finished with a strong hold and break to win 9-7.

Singles, as super SID Dave Holden writes, was not as thrilling in a good way for us.  Both Courtney and Morgan made very good players look average in 6-0,6-0 wins to clinch the match.  Courtney probably had the tougher opponent, but her game seems to get bigger and bigger each week as she is transitioning from defense to offense so routinely now and that really made the difference in a match that could have been very close.  Morgan was my pick for co-Whittie of the Match as she was so efficient and just like doubles was really blending smart, consistent play with timely offense, a deadly combination that keeps her game growing as well.  On the other end of the tennis center was KKP.  Kate has had some tough goes in singles this spring after taking the fall off and having big expectations for herself.  Today was a terrific step towards showing everyone the player she is as it was probably her most solid day off the ground on top of serving very effectively and once she found a way to break her opponent, she was off to the races with a 6-3,6-1 win.  Alyssa, again playing a dangerously fast and talented opponent who beat her once last year, took a little while in the first set to find her range, but once she did the result was amazing tennis from both players as they both cover so much court and have great offensive shots from anywhere.  ShoPo pulled out the first 6-4 and didn't look back, taking the second 6-1 in a triumphant return from a nasty cold that lingered for a couple weeks.
Em closing on a volley

Next on was Emily, and as she and Charlotte are my first class of Whitties who have played all four years I've been here, I can't say enough about both of them as players and people.  However, putting aside nostalgia or comparisons of how much Em has amazed me with her nonstop improvement, she is simply a great player and she showed that today in how she was able to use her weapons with great intelligence and poise in a 6-3,6-4 win.  Our third senior, Lizzy, who is only in her second season on the team again showed why she is so clutch.  With the match decided and only the die hard fans joining her teammates in cheering, she got down 1-5 in the second set after a very nice first set win.  At this point, I'm thinking, ok Lizzy, just get things going like the first set so you have your game in order for the super tie break.  Then I remembered how hard Lizzy fights for each point and how much she's improved her endurance so a comeback was certainly a possibility.  Well, she joined Lil Mo as co Whittie of the Match with a steady barrage of hardworking games to tie the second set at 5-5 and even take a 6-5 lead.  With one game to go, her opponent loosened up, made some great plays and we were in a tiebreak for the second set.  Here, Lizzy had all the momentum and won to seal the 9-0 win!  Meanwhile, Hadley was not fazed by her first set loss, but calmly made the necessary adjustment to win the second set and then as both players found their best tennis, fought her way with great fitness and amazing determination to win the super tie break for a 4-6, 6-3, 11-9 victory.  Hannah was great on court with our AC Seth on a trip to Seattle discussing his Politics research with the mayor (go Seth!), and Zoe K-P's cheering made it feel like there must have been more supporters in Bratton than the fire marshall allows; thanks ladies.

It was so much fun to be at home, thanks to all the fans who cheered us on, it means a lot to have your support.  Also thanks to Big Cheese Pizza and the USTA and ITA for joining forces to provide free pizza to all in attendance.  I hope all the kids enjoyed the tennis, and that some of you saw your, "coaches" from clinics and camps and were inspired by their play, I know I was.

Next week, we are again at home with Lewis and Clark on Friday and George Fox on Saturday before we head to Texas for Spring, I can't believe its March, time flies when you're loving life, and this team has a special magic that makes time go by very fast indeed.

Best wishes to all,

Coach John