Adopting a team-first mentality was paramount to Linfield’s success as the Wildcats battled injury and other adversity en route to top-four finish in the Northwest Conference and a consistent national ranking during the 2016 season.
The ‘Cats achieved their third consecutive 10-win season, and 17th of the past 18 years, and advanced to the semifinal round in their 18th straight appearance at the NWC Tournament before bowing out in a season-ending loss to nemesis Lewis & Clark.
“We had high expectations, and it’s challenging to get a national perspective when you come in third place in your league,” said third-year head coach Lisa Macy-Baker. “But in actuality, when you look at the overall season and overall year, we’re in the Top 40 and on the brink of the Top 30.”
A pair of nonconference victories over then-No. 23 La Verne and No. 34 Chapman helped the Wildcats gain confidence prior to the league portion of the calendar. Linfield, which held on to No. 35 in the national poll for most of the year, put together four- and three-match win streaks as part of a 9-3 league record, its only losses coming to the top two clubs.
Battling injury, illness and other challenges, Linfield juggled nine different doubles pairings throughout the year, and rarely enjoyed the same lineup from top to bottom. Despite that, the Wildcats remained fiercely competitive and benefitted from an adaptable team willing and able to rise to the occasion when called upon.
“Our greatest challenge was we had to have players step into different roles. But our strength was that we did it; everyone bought in and I felt like we gave it everything we had,” said co-head coach Carl Swanson.
Macy-Baker echoed those sentiments, noting, “We heard a lot of, ‘Whatever you need, coach.’ And that’s a great shift. We like that a lot.”
Staking claim as the top tandem in the NWC, sophomore Ella Riddle and Elsa Harris paired for a 14-3 overall doubles record, including a 10-1 mark against conference opponents. The two were selected as alternates for the NCAA tournament, having achieved a No. 5 ranking in the West by season’s end.
Individually, Riddle and Harris also put together impressive records in the top two singles flights. Riddle, Linfield’s reigning all-American who was also chosen as an alternate for the singles national tournament this season, went 13-3 at No. 1 singles, and dropped just one match in league play. Harris, meanwhile, compiled an 11-5 record, prevailing in eight conference matches.
Basia Kopecka, Marisa Kume and Sierra Lemon all totaled nine singles victories apiece, and also factored greatly into Linfield’s doubles success. Kume overcame some personal adversity to finish out the year strong, while Lemon compiled 16 wins in her first season as a full-time starter in both singles and doubles.
In addition to a 9-2 singles mark, Kopecka emerged as a force in doubles play, demonstrating that when healthy, she is one of the most challenging matchups in the Northwest Conference. Kopecka and Marisa Doveri combined for a 7-3 record, while Doveri stepped into a challenging No. 3 singles spot and fought through a team-high five three-set matches.
“Wherever you put her, she’s going to put in 110 percent, and you know that every time,” Macy-Baker said of Doveri. “She’s a workhorse, and a great teammate.”
Courtney Mostul was another leader who stepped up in key situations, lending her talents in eight singles and 14 doubles matches, the latter with four different partners throughout the year.
With a heightened focus on targeted injury prevention as well as increased depth, Linfield can set sights on even higher expectations and success moving forward.
“We played a tough schedule and had a lot of good results,” Swanson said. “The next breakthrough is to beat a Top 20 team and move into the Top 20. We feel like we’ve put the foundation down and we can do that.”