Relying on the experience of a solid veteran trio just two years removed from a league championship and the talent of supporting cast of young players, Lisa Macy-Baker has set the bar high for the Wildcats in her first year as head coach.
“We’re going to compete for a top spot in the Northwest Conference,” she said quite simply, “and I’m feeling more confident about that every day.”
Caroline Brigham, Kelly Watanabe and Kaila Nip set the tone for Linfield’s unproven youth, but more importantly recognize what it takes to reach the top of what is a tough Northwest Conference women’s tennis scene.
Brigham, a three-time all-NWC honoree, comes off a great fall season in which she reached the semifinals in both singles and doubles competition at the ITA West Region Championships, and continues to epitomize consistency.
“She’s the type of player that can take pressure and turn it into privilege,” Macy-Baker said of Brigham. “She just gets it done on the court.”
Watanabe and Nip, meanwhile, provide not only talent and leadership, but also stability in their second season as doubles partners. The duo combined for a 10-6 win-loss record as sophomores, including a 9-1 mark against league opponents.
Out for a third season and ready to assume greater responsibility is Gretchen Jernstedt, who takes on a leadership role in doubles action after playing alongside Linfield’s lone senior last season.
A gifted group of underclassmen, meanwhile, ensures, as Macy-Baker explains, “the bar is being pushed in both directions.”
The Wildcats’ freshman class includes Mackenzie Fraser, Marisa Kume, Courtney Mostul and Lauren Seki. Fraser is a coach’s daughter that boasts a high tennis IQ, Kume is coming off an impressive cross country season, Mostul is vying for a lineup spot early and Honolulu native Seki brings a strong skill set to the roster.
This push-and-pull between experienced and rookie players bodes well for one key philosophical focus of Macy-Baker’s Wildcats: fostering a healthy sense of competition that drives consistent improvement.
“If we’re not competitive in practice, we’re not getting better,” the head coach said. “That’s how teams get better. They push each other in practice, and we’ve really seen that.”
A strong work ethic, high fitness level and commitment to a positive team atmosphere make for a good recipe for team success. The only real question that remains, then, is how the young players respond to and find success at the collegiate level.
After a nonconference season-opening warm-up against the College of Idaho, Linfield’s lineup gets tested early with road matchups at defending champion Whitman and NWC tournament participant Whitworth. As part of the league’s round-robin-and-a-half schedule, the Wildcats run up against the Missionaries and Pirates again on the final weekend of the regular season.