An influx of talent mixed in with solid experience among the returners gives second-year head coach Lisa Macy-Baker a “beautiful combination” to make a run at Linfield’s first Northwest Conference championship in three years.
With seniors Kelly Watanabe and Kaila Nip providing leadership, match experience and unrivaled chemistry in their third season as doubles partners, the Wildcat youth have quite the example to follow as they fulfill key roles throughout the 2015 season.
In addition to more than 30 career doubles victories, Watanabe also brings positive vibes and leadership to the team while Nip is “the player every coach wants on their team,” Macy-Baker said. “You have that absolute confidence in her at all times that she’s going to fight for every point, keep a level head and compete harder than anybody on the court.”
On the opposite end of the age spectrum are freshmen Ella Riddle and Basha Kopecka, who begin their collegiate careers with considerable experience in the junior ranks and consequently enter the year penciled in at the No. 1 and 2 singles and doubles slots, respectively.
“Ella has wonderful talent, big strokes, big forehand and the intangible of a really high level of competitiveness. That’s probably something that sets her apart,” Macy-Baker. “If she can learn to channel that energy into positive results, the possibilities are really endless for her.”
Kopecka faces a similar challenge in her mental game, particularly as she rekindles a genuine love for a sport that has been a major part of her life for years.
Linfield’s talented freshman class also includes Oregon natives Courtney Hammagren, Marisa Doveri and Sierra Lemon. Hammagren brings an incredible skill set to go along with innate athleticism, Doveri is an intense competitor who hits an extremely heavy ball and Lemon has an intrinsic court sense that sets her apart in doubles competition.
“It’s very exciting to have two freshmen at the top of our lineup,” Macy-Baker said. “But at the same time, experience at this level and experience being on a team is invaluable. With youth, you’re not always sure what you’re going to get day in and day out.”
Along with Nip and Watanabe, sophomore Mackenzie Fraser provides necessary leadership, particularly for at the No. 1 doubles position with a partner, Riddle, with relatively limited doubles experience. Returners Marisa Kume, Gretchen Jernstedt, Courtney Mostul and Lauren Seki increase Linfield’s depth and versatility.
“We can play so many different players in so many different spots, particularly at the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 positions,” Macy-Baker said. “That’s really going to contribute to the overall health and stamina of our team this year.”
An impressive nonconference slate should also prepare the Wildcats for the rigors and increasingly competitive nature of the Northwest Conference season. After taking on a quartet of NCAA Division II and I programs, Linfield opens the Division III portion of its schedule against 15th-ranked La Verne.
Aside from healthy, chemistry is to be of particular emphasis this season, especially with two new doubles pairs in the lineup. Should Linfield do well in both of those areas, expect to see the Wildcats once again battling for a conference title at season’s end.