It may be hard to declare a season in which a team wins just four of 18 matches as a success, but that is certainly the case for the Linfield Wildcats in 2016.
Embracing a new coach, a new system and ambitious goals, the Wildcats affirmed their commitment to the process of becoming a championship-caliber program.
In doing so, Linfield raised its Northwest Conference standing from eighth to sixth while increasing the overall win total from the previous season. Led by upperclassmen Tim Hawkins, Alec Wisthoff and Charlie Farrenkopf, the young ‘Cats weathered a stretch of difficult losses while steadily improving as the season wore on.
“Watching Tim, Alec and Charlie embrace our team goals was inspiring, as was watching the improvement of guys like Ben McNair and Liam Spearnak,” said first-year coach Ben Belletto. “Our freshmen jumped right in and combined a fresh perspective with a phenomenal work ethic.”
Freshman Jacob Mangan (six singles, four doubles wins) and McNair (five singles, four doubles wins) were Linfield’s most consistent performers on the court. Newcomers Carter Pentz, Trent Prussing and Spearnak, a sophomore, gained immeasurable experience over the course of the season.
Linfield’s most impressive match was a 7-2 triumph over Occidental in early February. Through the NWC slate, the ‘Cats swept home-and-home meetings from Puget Sound and topped Pacific Lutheran by a 7-2 count.
Belletto, who joined the coaching staff in the fall after a wildly successful coaching career in California, laid the bedrock for success in the years ahead.
“A season can feel both endless and short at the same time,” he said. “but this team kept its focus on the process of becoming a championship team. The work the guys invested toward getting better doesn’t all show up in the results. But as the future unfurls itself, it will become evident.”