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Getting ready for spring break

Jeff Northam - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It’s been a bit of a strange week. Well honestly the week before spring break is always a bit strange. With a two-week break the professors at Whitman often pile on the work – lots of mid-terms, papers, and tests. Also, without fail, seems this is the week when guys' immune systems break down. With the long hours of studying and lack of sleep, it seems like members of the team always get sick. In fact, this week many on the team did get sick and/or had to miss practice because of academic pressures. After two decades of coaching I finally learned my lesson about spring break. Last year we started off spring break trip playing in the StagHen tournament. This amazing tournament typically attracts some of the top teams in D3 tennis. However, the event starts Friday morning which means leaving Thursday morning. Also academically everyone has to cram one of the hardest weeks of the year into a couple days. Plus, last year we had flight issues with Delta and we ended up having to drive part of the team to Boise, ID to take an early morning flight to join the rest of the team in Los Angeles. As if that wasn’t enough we also encounter record high temps in Southern California. With the tough academic week, short week, bad travel, and high temps it’s no wonder we struggled in our first matches of spring break. We ended up falling to two top 10 teams in brutal physical matches – Trinity 3-6 and Kenyon 4-5. Plus, sandwiched between those two matches we lost to Case in a match where I had to pull 4 of the top 6 players due to heat exhaustion.

 

This year I took a different approach to spring break. We limited the time training on court and reduced the physical conditioning load. I will say it’s nice to have a motivated team that really wants to play and train – it’s not an issue to get them to play! Also leading up to the weekend I let it be known my priority was to play the lower guys on the roster against conference opponents Willamette/Linfield. We had already defeated both of these teams 9-0 and I didn’t feel it would do any good playing the top guys. The past month has been incredible competition for the team – we have played Division 1 teams Idaho and Seattle U, we played 2 of the top teams in the conference, and we recently hosted two good D3 teams in Cal Lu and Swarthmore. So this was a great opportunity for the guys outside the top 6 to play meaningful matches.

 

What can I say - the lower guys were ready to play and came out on fire! In fact, we didn’t drop a set the entire weekend! Nice effort from everyone defeating Willamette, Spokane CC, and Linfield 9-0 within 24 hours! I also feel that the effort from the non-starters is going to pay big dividends during spring break. The top guys on the team got a chance to rest, recover from various ailments, and practice/play sets on their own over the weekend. Unlike last year we should be rested heading into a big week of matches.

 

We have a great week of opportunities ahead of us. We start our California trip against #9 Bowdoin (at CMS), Thursday we take on defending national champions CMS, Fri off, Saturday #14 Redlands and we wrap up Sunday against #21 Tufts (we are currently #17).

Splitting the Squad

Jeff Northam - Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Very interesting, and very fun weekend splitting the team into two squads. One part of the team traveled to Seattle to take on Seattle U (D1) while the other group traveled to the Willamette Valley for conference matches against Willamette and Linfield.


One reason the weekend was so awesome was our housing for the weekend. The Seattle troupe stayed with the La Cava’s in Seattle and the Willamette Valley crew stayed with Tom and Krista Herkamp. Both the families were unbelievable hosts and we all had a blast staying together in incredible homes. So to the La Cava’s and Herkamp’s THANK YOU SO MUCH!

 

I can’t speak about the Seattle match as I was with the Willamette group (perhaps Coach Colton can do a write up). What I do know it was an incredibly close and well played match. Even though we came away with a 3-4 loss all the guys felt it was a great experience and quality tennis. This match came down to the wire with the final two matches going to third sets. It was one of those days where a point here or there decided the outcome of the entire match. Was also great to have such a huge turn of alumni for the match. And thanks to P.R. and Vince for organizing the post-match activities! Greatly appreciated by all.

 

The same day as the Seattle U match I had a group playing against Willamette. One of my goals for the Willamette Valley group was to make sure everyone got opportunities to play. We have a large team with guys who consistently bust their butts in practice and conditioning, unfortunately these guys don’t get enough opportunities to play. Sometimes I wish for the opportunities to sub players in and out of a match like other team sports. However, Saturday was one of those rare days where all 15 players got to compete!

 

Against Willamette we swept the doubles but it wasn’t without drama as the #2 team of Luke/Alex couldn’t quite shake the pesky Willamette team. This match went back and forth with breaks but eventually Luke/Alex were able to prevail 8-6. Adam/Gary won 8-3 at #1 and Jacob/Joey won 8-1 at #3.

 

In singles we got quick wins at #1 Adam (6-1, 6-3), #2 Gary (6-3, 6-0), #3 Nishaant (6-1, 6-2) and #5 Jacob (6-3, 6-4 – ok this one wasn’t too quick). All great wins but matches of the day went to #4 Trevor and #6 Azur. I’m so impressed with Trevor’s improvement. As a freshman Trevor had a tendency to very hard on himself. Last year I think he had the personal motto of “my own worst enemy”. Let me say what a fantastic change a year as brought. It’s so gratifying to see him smile on the court and play upbeat tennis. Case in point, Trevor lost the first set 3-6 against a red hot Willamette player. His opponent played lights out in that first set. At the set break I spoke with Trevor about the set and he told me that his opponent played great and it was only 1 break of serve. Last year, in the same situation, Trevor would be told me how bad he was playing and put extra pressure on himself to play better this set. This time Trevor had a smile on his face after losing the first set, was truly enjoying the competition and had confidence in himself to grind out the match. I’m so impressed with him! In the second set Trevor raced out to a 4-1 lead and ended up winning the match 3-6, 6-2, 10-6. Trevor, well done!

 

The other interesting match was first year Azur Ali playing in his first ever dual match. I’ve coached long enough to know that a first dual match is not only a big deal but also a nervous deal! I’ve seen many a young player get the yips in their first match. Although incredibly nervous Azur did great! In fact, he played some of his best tennis of the year winning 6-3, 6-3.

 

On Sunday weather didn’t cooperate and we were forced into the Linfield fieldhouse (3 courts) for our 10am match. Like the Willamette match I wanted to play all 9-players but mixed up who played singles and doubles.

 

We started off the match in strong fashion only dropping 6 games in the 3 doubles pro-sets (8-0, 8-2, 8-4). In singles the guys played well not dropping a set the entire day. Luke had the most competitive match of the day winning 6-4, 6-3 after being down 1-4 in the 1st . Azur was even more impressive in the second match of his career, winning 6-1, 6-2 – in this match he won the 1st 13 points! In practice Azur has a tendency to swing for the fences and try to finish points way too fast and way too big. Against Linfield he was the model of consistency, he was patient from the baseline and when he did get opportunities he didn’t try to paint the line with hardest hit ball known to mankind, instead he was played to big targets with a well-shaped ball. True story, Joey is playing next to Azur and on a changeover he leans over to me and asked what happened to Azur. He said he is like a new player and that he should play that way in practice. Joey I couldn’t agree more!

 

Here are the scores against Linfield.

#1 doubles Gary/Adam 8-0

#2 doubles Trevor/Nishaant 8-2

#3 doubles Jacob/Joey 8-4

#1 Adam 6-1, 6-1

#2 Gary 6-3, 6-2

#3 Alex 6-0, 6-1

#4 Joey 6-1, 6-2

#5 Luke 6-4, 6-3

#6 Azur 6-1, 6-2

 

Thanks to all the parents who came out to the matches. I speak for all entire team when I say we appreciate your support and it’s so nice to be loaded up with bags of fruit, cookies and treatsJ

 

Couple nice awards this week. Adam was named NWC Player of the Week. Also Azur was voted the yellow jersey by his teammates.