Returning to the championship match of the Northwest Conference Tournament for the first time in two years was one of many highlights for Lisa Macy-Baker’s inaugural season as head women’s tennis coach.
Adopting a new doubles system that featured more aggressive net play, Linfield posted a 13-4 record, including 9-3 in conference matches, and played its best tennis at the end of the year in time to advance to the finals of the league tournament, in which the Wildcats fell to nationally ranked Whitman 5-0.
“They exceeded my expectations,” Macy-Baker said. “We finished the season wanting more. With the maturity and work ethic and how the players so quickly gelled as a team and bought into what we were giving them, it felt like they were totally on board the whole time.”
Linfield opened the Division III portion of its schedule with back-to-back road defeats against Whitman (5-4) and Whitworth (7-2) before winning its next 10 contests. The Wildcats avenged the loss to Whitworth in the final match of the regular season, 6-3, and turned around the next weekend and topped the Pirates again, this time 5-3, to earn a showdown with Whitman in the title match.
The Wildcats entered the year with a balanced roster of veteran and rookie players, but Macy-Baker admitted early on there was concern that the team might be too newcomer-heavy. Thanks to strong leadership, however, Linfield’s youth quickly progressed and made great improvements over the course of the season.
Mackenzie Fraser posted a perfect 13-0 record, playing mostly at No. 6 singles, and Marisa Kume went 13-3 in primarily fourth-flight singles action. Courtney Mostul was a “stud” in doubles, pairing with Gretchen Jernstedt for an 11-3 record.
Setting the example were seniors Katherine Allison and Caroline Brigham. The latter capped off an impressive four-year career with an 11-5 record at No. 1 singles and paired with freshman Mackenzie Fraser for a 9-8 mark in top-flight doubles.
“I haven’t come across a student-athlete who works harder,” Macy-Baker said of Brigham. “She truly has this great mix of tenacity and knowing when to flip the switch from intensity to fun and I think that set a great example for our team.”
Kaila Nip (13-3) and Kelly Watanabe (7-5) continued to provide consistency at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, respectively, and combined for a 10-6 record in second-flight doubles.
“Kelly played injured for the last half of the season and even though we played her sparingly she was clutch at the end of the season when we needed her,” Macy-Baker said. “She actually played some of her best tennis when she was in the most pain.”
Nip returned to true form after an injury carried over from her freshman to sophomore years, and was chosen as the team’s most inspirational player.
“She’s inspirational not only because she’s loud and vocal but because she works so hard and she’s such a fighter out there on the court. She has a good balance of competitiveness and sportsmanship, too.”
Linfield achieved one of its major goals – holding the advantage in doubles in 12 of 17 matches – but has a bit more to improve upon to return to the top of the Northwest Conference.
“We have to continue to strengthen our lineup and make it as deep as possible,” Macy-Baker said. “A lot of that comes down to how hard the team works in the offseason and how hard our group of incoming freshmen work as well.”