Sporting a small but solid lineup nine players deep, the Wildcats have plans to raise the bar even higher in 2016. With great chemistry and a team-as-family attitude guiding a mix of savvy veterans and talented newcomers, Linfield should continue to compete as one of the Northwest Conference’s elite squads.
“We’re not as deep as we were last year, but we’re deep enough 1-9,” said co-head coach Lisa Macy-Baker. “If we stay healthy, we’re going to be very, very competitive and move toward our goal of breaking the Top 25 [nationally]. We’re on the brink, and we want to keep going.”
Headlining the list of returners is all-American Ella Riddle, who went 17-2 against Division III opponents last season, including a spotless 12-0 record at Northwest Conference No. 1 singles. The incredible experience Riddle gained by competing at the NCAA tournament is paying out in a big way for the Wildcats.
“The biggest improvements I see in Ella are her maturity as a teammate and her doubles play,” Macy-Baker said. “She’s really turned into a fierce doubles player in a very short period of time.”
Riddle is just part of a talented sophomore class that, with a year of collegiate experience under their belts, is even more dangerous on the court.
In addition to being one of the most gifted doubles players in the program, lefty Basia Kopecka also poses a stiff challenge in singles play due to the variety of her game.
“She has a big kick on her serve, comes in and is fierce at the net. She really unloads on the ball and really can cause a lot of problems for her opponents,” Macy-Baker said. “She can ice anybody, take care of business, and she does.”
Marisa Doveri, who posted an impressive 14-3 singles record as a freshman, has already played in many challenging matches and has the mentality to grind out wins on the court by wearing down her opponents. Doubles partner Sierra Lemon has both natural doubles instinct and a quick first step that should prove advantageous as she steps into a more prominent singles role this year.
“Marisa and Sierra are really going to surprise some teams. They didn’t get a ton of playing time last year as a doubles squad, but you’re going to see them just get more and more confident as the year goes on,” Macy-Baker said.
There are no seniors on this team, but experienced juniors Marisa Kume, Courtney Mostul and Lauren Seki have easily stepped into a leadership role and also contribute greatly on the court. Kume has two years of extensive singles play and the stamina to battle through lengthy matches, Mostul is a fierce competitor with great doubles experience and Seki is one of the best at setting the example of how to work hard day in and day out.
Linfield also welcomes two newcomers, from vastly different backgrounds: true freshman Elsa Harris and community college-transfer Laurel Nelson, whose unique tennis background includes international and adult-league experiences.
“We’re going to see Elsa continue to improve at a very fast rate. She’s a quick study and her athleticism is pretty remarkable,” Macy-Baker said. “Laurel’s style adds different dynamic in practice. It makes everybody better.”
Great team chemistry and a tough preseason schedule should prepare Linfield for a vigorous and competitive season in the Northwest Conference. Four of Linfield’s first six matches are against programs ranked in the ITA Tennis Top 35: La Verne, Redlands, Chapman and Trinity (Texas).
The team’s Northwest Conference schedule, which begins February 12, includes a home-and-away series against two of the league’s top programs: Whitworth and three-time defending champion Whitman.