The Northwood women’s tennis team is in the midst of a 7-2 season in the newly formed Central 3A conference (9-5 overall) and are poised for the conference’s No. 1 spot. This Friday, the Chargers …
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The Northwood women’s tennis team is in the midst of a 7-2 season in the newly formed Central 3A conference (9-5 overall) and are poised for the conference’s No. 1 spot. This Friday, the Chargers will battle it out with the Central 3A in the conference tournament, where its top players — senior Evelyn Lippers (9-1), senior Julia Earnshaw (6-3) and sophomore Ryan Tinervin (8-1), among others — are sure to shine. Northwood is searching not only for a deep playoff run in singles and doubles play, but also an elusive dual-team playoff berth, where it’ll compete for a team state title.
With Northwood’s season in full swing, the News + Record sat down with fifth-year head coach Abbie McGee to discuss her start at Northwood, her team’s possible conference-winning season and her players’ chemistry with one another that’s helping to fuel their success. Conversation has been edited for clarity.
ABBIE McGEE: No, I had no idea what it meant to coach. It’s very different running privates and clinics. It’s been fun because I just didn’t even have an idea that I had a knack for it. It’s amazing, too, how I really relate to this age. It’s really bizarre because that makes me think that, as an adult, ‘Have I really accomplished much if I’m still relating to them?’ But it turns out that all of the other coaches are really surprised at how close we are. I just encourage a lot of team-building experiences so that the kids get to know each other. They’re all very supportive of one another. It’s interesting, we never have fights, no one cares what position you are. It’s been a wonderful experience.
I would say dedication. These girls don’t miss practice and they don’t quit. I think what some coaches miss out on is team-building is good for them to get along, but it also encourages them to spend time together and if they’re going to spend time together, they’re going to play the sport together. It’s been a wonderful help for us — the boys come to the girls matches and to the practices. And so what they do is, some of the boys will sign up to be my managers, and that gives the girls people to hit with who have pace, so that has really worked out well for us. We do that in both seasons. Some of the girls sign up for the boys and the boys sign up for the girls. They travel with us to our away matches, as well. It probably helps make them closer.
Yeah, we don’t see it as an individual sport at all. You should see the kids when they come off the courts. Even when they’re on the courts, they’re cheering each other on right next to each other. They initially encouraged me to have no more than 12 players on the team, but I said, ‘No, I’m going do this the way that feels right to me.’ So I allow 22 players. Do all of these girls ever even make it to the top six places where they play official matches? No, but ask any one of them who left as seniors, never having played an official match, but only played exhibition matches, and they’ll tell you they loved it. I’m just a huge proponent of getting kids off the streets after school and giving them something to do.
You know, it’s funny because Coach David Earnshaw and I were just talking about that because we give out three awards every year: the M.V.P. and the best sportsmanship and the most improved. I’ve been watching Kaylee Fisher. As a coach, it’s funny because if you look at her, she’ll even tell you, ‘Coach, I’m not that good.’ And if you look at her record, it appears that she’s not, but from a coaching perspective, both Earnshaw and I, she’s improved immensely. She’s almost there. We had trouble getting her to move through the ball, but she had everything else, everything else was there, but if you can’t move through the ball, then it doesn’t go anywhere. Well, she finally figured out how to move through the ball and her playing has just gone way up. She doesn’t realize that if the season had continued further past this point, she’d start winning most of her matches. We’re going to award her the most improved.
And then sportsmanship, that’s always a tough one for us, because they’re all so involved, but the one thing that Coach Earnshaw and I were most impressed with this season, we have never had a team captain like Evelyn Lippers. She is amazing. We tell her this is what needs to be done and she does it and then some. So she’s been amazing.
I had everyone on the team take personality tests so that I could coach them better. I did it because the same approach doesn’t work with every kid and it really does help you understand how to approach them and can sometimes help you understand who to play with each other as partners. And the kids loved it. Evelyn is what you would call a defender. She protects. And she’s highly competitive. Julia is a logic person. She only looks at reality and you tend to have to bolster her up. Evelyn has a way of just cheering Julia on in such a way that she gets the best of Julia and when Julia’s on top of her game, she could kill everyone. If she ever figured out how to be consistent, I’d say she could even go pro, she’s that good. But it’s not her first sport. Her first sport is swimming, she’s going to go into Division I swimming in college, so tennis is just something she does on the side. Evelyn has a way of bringing out the best in her, so the two of them together just do really well.
There was this one match, oh my gosh, they were down 7-0 and it was an eight-game pro set. And they won. As a coach, I always say, ‘Hey, it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings. If the game is still on, it’s because a winner has not been decided. I don’t care what the score says. Get out there and do what you can.’ We were all just like, ‘Holy crud!’ I can’t remember what match it was, but we were just cheering like mad because we’ve never seen anything like that.
Your guess is as good as mine. This Friday is the conference tournament, next Friday is regionals and the next Friday is states, so we know that we’ll be busy for the next three weeks. Coach Earnshaw and I will work very specifically with the top six over the next three weeks, depending on how far we get, and I expect that we’ll get far. And then dual-team playoffs has to fit in there somewhere, but we’ve never gone, so somewhere we’ll be assigned to travel pretty far, depending on what team we have to go up against, to compete in those. And If we win then we keep going, so it could be another month of tennis.