The Santa Barbara Athletic Roundtable has recently announced Carol Cai and Grace Fuss as the co-winners of the “tennis player of the year” award for the 2019-2020 school year.
I’m very excited for Grace and Carol to be receiving the player of the year award as a doubles team. Together, they were a top-16 team in CIF Southern Section this year and were also excellent Co-Captains of our team at Cate.
This year, the main change at Thorpe Tennis was the development and expansion of mini-camps. The once-yearly Thorpe Tennis Summer Tennis Camp was a much-loved event each June, but was very difficult for me to prepare and run. This spring, I tested a more nimble camp concept, something that would be repeatable on a more regular basis but that included the beloved elements of the more traditional camp I had been organizing.
To my delight, that spring mini-camp was a huge success and we managed to repeat the model six more times throughout the year. By following the ebb-and-flow of the school schedule and other patterns I’ve noticed over the years, I am now able to offer the Thorpe Tennis Mini-Camp Series on nine occasions throughout the year!
I owe a big thank you to Mark Polowczak for his help through the year, both with the mini-camps and also our Sunday Sessions. While he is heading off to college in Texas, he’s already committed to assisting again this summer.
In 2019, I worked on 260 days, including one stretch of 55 consecutive days. I worked with players as young as seven and a few players old enough not to want to be identified by their age! In total, I coached 66 different players during the year, across two high school teams, junior tennis, college tennis, ladies doubles, and competitive age-group mens’ tennis. When I wasn’t working, I was traveling!
My boys’ team at Laguna had a season of growth, after graduating most of the previous year’s starting lineup, but still managed to extend our 50% or better win-loss record to eight consecutive seasons. Having finally made their way into the Tri-Valley League after free-lancing for five years, this group now look primed to make a run at winning that league in 2020.
During the summer, Thorpe Tennis was firing on all cylinders, with mini-camps galore. It was so great to see the progress of players like Caleb Silverberg and George Nicks during that period. In addition, much fun was had, all sorts.
I also had the chance to play some tennis, myself, logging court time in Argentina and Colombia on clay, as well as rekindling my Redlands University partnership with Aron Ouye for the Santa Barbara Open. We made the semifinals of that tournament in doubles, taking out recent grads from the tennis programs at UCSB and Cal Lu in the process.
The fall marked the first time I’ve had a high school team go undefeated. My girls at Cate went 10-0, defeating Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos, and San Marcos high schools along the way. This was the 10th playoff appearance for Cate Girls’ Tennis in my 11 years coaching at the school and we’ve qualified for the CIF D1 Playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
Another real highlight of the year was the incredible run of senior captains Grace Fuss and Carol Cai in the CIF Individual Doubles Tournament. They repeated as Tri-Valley League Champions (and Carol completed her high school career with four doubles titles in four seasons!), before breezing through three rounds of CIF Regionals. They put in a devastating performance against their first opponents in CIF Sectionals, defeating a top-20 in Southern California team 6-0, 6-1 before their run came to an end in the the Round-of-16.
Both Cai and Fuss are being actively recruited by a number of college tennis programs and I look forward to seeing how their college careers take shape. That said, they’ll be sorely missed on the Cate Mesa. During their four years at Cate, the team went 45-3 (31-0 in league play), en-route to four Tri-Valley League Championships and a place amongst the top-30 teams in Southern California.
I’m as excited as ever to be starting the new year and getting to do it with such a great community of people makes it all the sweeter. Here’s to a new decade full of tennis!
This post is coming a little later than my typical annual review, but there was no shortage of great things to write about.
As I looked back at last year’s review, I noticed a trend. It’s actually something I think about often. Tennis, and specifically the Thorpe Tennis community, returns every effort I give, with interest.
In 2018, I worked on 258 days, including one stretch of 51 consecutive days. I loved almost every minute of it. That’s not to say there aren’t difficult moments, but every time I step on-court I am filled with a passion for what we can do together to grow as players and as people.
This last spring, Laguna Blanca Boys’ Tennis rewarded me with my 100th win in 9 seasons as their head coach. We graduated a class that went 52-12 in four years of regular season play and reached the CIF D4 Quarterfinals in each of their last two seasons.
The summer was filled with several blocks of group training weeks, where players got 2-4 hours in per day and made some big gains. I also did many hitting lessons this summer, with students of all ages. Of particular satisfaction was the time spent continuing to improve the tennis of some recent graduates of my high school programs (Conrad Perry, I’m looking at you!).
Also, this summer, I had the pleasure of preparing a special group of incoming freshmen girls for high school tennis. Madeleine Nicks, Ava Rice, Amara Murphy, and Lauren Neubauer all put in big time over the summer to hit the ground running at Laguna Blanca. While I don’t coach that team, I am very excited to see what that core unit can do in the coming years and love that I get to be part of it.
Speaking of girls’ high school tennis, when I think about the program that we’ve developed together at the Cate School, it always gets me fired up. This year, Cate Girls’ Tennis went 12-1 during regular season play and put in a solid effort against eventual CIF D1 Champions, Mira Costa, in the playoffs.
During this period, my girls also helped me to reach the 100-win mark across 10 seasons coaching at Cate. Cate Girls’ Tennis has been utterly dominant in Tri-Valley League play, as well as fielding some of the best players in CIF Individuals year after year.
One of the biggest revelations of the year was the progress I got to make with one of my most dedicated students, Jake Gidney. Over the last year, Jake has improved by leaps and bounds through his commitment to being a better tennis player every day. He’s now wading into tournament play and is quite comfortable playing with players several years older than him. Keep an eye on that kid 😉
Part of the reason players like Jake get to reach new levels and play against stronger competition is that Thorpe Tennis has such a great participation rate with group sessions.
I have been working to expand these groups to offer players the opportunity to 1) play more often 2) play with different opponents at different levels 3) have a ton of fun! We had some absolutely ridiculous moments in 2018, let me tell you.
All of this is to say, I feel very honored to be a coach and a role model to this wonderful group of people. I get so much positive feedback and support from my students and their families. I am filled with the joy of passing on my knowledge and just being part of the process. This motivates me daily to improve what I have to offer as a coach and to reach my full potential as a human being. This is truly a virtuous cycle!
Like most of us here in the Santa Barbara Area, 2017 ended on a frustrating note for me. Eleven months of momentum quite literally went up in smoke, as the Thomas Fire ravaged our mountains, threatened our community, and for three weeks made tennis all but impossible.
What it didn’t do is dampen my enthusiasm for the way my students have performed in 2017. Whether the goal was learning to put the ball on the strings consistently or to reach new heights in elite competition, Thorpe Tennis was blessed with big results this last year.
These achievements, which you will read more about below, had a particularly profound effect on the way I was able to process the end of my marriage. Those in this community who were aware of it offered me their heartfelt support and the time I got to spend with each of my students on-court was absolute joy in a time of sadness. I want to express my gratitude to everyone who is a part of Thorpe Tennis for being my guiding light in 2017.
Like a parent recently mentioned to me, referring to the mudslide troubles of this first month of 2018, “this too shall pass.” So onward to the highlights of 2017 and the opportunities that 2018 will surely provide:
Spent more than 1,000 hours on-court, coaching 59 players from age 6 to 54.
Directed a fourth edition of Laguna Blanca Summer Tennis Camp for middle schoolers and incoming freshmen that featured what I consider to be the best T-shirt design yet!
Significantly grew tennis participation at the lower/middle school level at Laguna Blanca, particularly through weekly group lessons.
Coached Laguna Blanca Boys’ High School Tennis to a 13-3 record and our deepest CIF Playoffs run to-date (Quarterfinals of D4).
Led Cate Girls’ Tennis to a 13-1 regular season record and a third-consecutive Tri-Valley League Title. This also coincided with our promotion to the top division in Southern California. Being a D1 CIF tennis team means that we are considered one of the top 30 teams in what is widely considered the deepest high school section in the entire country. We are, by far, the smallest school to appear in CIF Division 1 and the first team of any sport to reach the top division at Cate.
Individually, my students at Cate had another phenomenal run:
Grace Fuss finished Runner-Up in Tri-Valley League Singles for a second consecutive season while earning team MVP honors.
Sarah Polowczak and Janice Ng had awesome seasons with other partners before pairing to finish Runner-Up in league (l. to sisters Cai). The pair continued their success with a first-round win in CIF Individuals.
Jackie Cai & Carol Cai repeated their Tri-Valley League Doubles Title and won four rounds in CIF Individuals, earning them the billing as one of the top 16 doubles teams in CIF Southern Section!
Now it’s time to get back to work, Thorpe Tennis players, parents, and friends! We’ve got quite the year to top, but somehow we manage to do it again and again.
Sincerest thanks for another great year of tennis in Santa Barbara!
Year #4 is in the books over at Laguna Blanca Summer Tennis Camp and I am proud to report another excellent week of tennis.
A dozen campers, three celebrity players, and your camp coaching staff enjoyed warm but pleasant conditions at Furukawa Tennis Gardens, with a smattering of fog to provide some sun relief.
During the week, we worked on becoming confident in tie-break situations, learned the high school format scoring system, and did many of the drills that have guided Laguna Blanca Boys’ Tennis to a 62-19 record over the last five seasons.
In the week-long team competition, Team Berkshire Hathaway held a steady lead throughout the week, although Team LaJuJuMaHaBen made a final day push to make the final score a very close 13-12 win for what we can only assume would be the Oracle of Omaha’s favorite pick for top tennis team.
While all campers exhibited good sportsmanship and drive throughout the week, several stood out as being worthy of our end-of-camp awards. Jake Gidney was the unanimous pick for “Coaches’ Award”, bestowed upon the camper that best embodied the characteristics desired in a player by coaches. Jack Connor snagged the “Most Improved” honors, transitioning from squash phenom to competitive tennis player in one week flat. Finally, the “Most Valuable Player” title went to Luke Williams, who showed himself not only to be the strongest player at camp, but also to be a great leader and teammate.
Thanks go to Laguna Blanca School for allowing me to host this event at Furukawa Tennis Gardens; to Tristan Prinz who has been a coach at each of the four editions of this camp; to Henry Farrell for stepping up from “celeb player” to coach in the summer before he departs for Harvard University; and to Jason Barnick, Atty Roddick, and Andrew Tolles for the volunteer work as this year’s celebrity players.
And of course, I want to thank our campers and camp parents for putting your faith in me to produce a fun and engaging tennis camp!
As I look back on the last three “year-in-review” posts, I am reminded of just how long I’ve been writing what my students affectionately refer to as “the blog.” This is not a new site, and Thorpe Tennis, now seven years old, is not a new thing either. However, I am inspired daily to bring new and better content, methods, and insights to my work.
I feel this way because I have a passion for teaching the game of tennis and particularly for having an impact on young lives. There are few things in this world I enjoy more than seeing the light go on about getting that service contact point up a little higher or cutting off the angles at net; the moment where a player realizes they can compete against that crazy-good opponent; building mastery day-by-day out of desire. These are the little things that make the big difference and not just on the tennis court. These are experiential building blocks for life and I feel very fortunate to be part of that process of growth.
In 2016, there have been challenges, but as a tennis community, Thorpe Tennis has been extremely successful. Here are just some of the many high-points of the year:
Spent more than 1,000 hours on-court, coaching 61 players from age 9 to 60.
Directed a third, and perhaps, the most successful year of my tennis camp for middle schoolers and incoming freshmen.
Coached Laguna Blanca Boys’ Tennis to a 12-4 record, which saw us ranked as high as #9 in CIF D4.
Led Cate Girls’ Tennis to a 10-1 regular season record, during which time we were ranked as high as #1 in CIF D2 before finishing #4. We also made a return to the Quarterfinals of CIF D2, after recording a 69-68 victory over a senior-laden Xavier Prep. With regards to ranking and division performance, these are achievements accomplished by no other team in Cate Athletics history.
Individually, my students at Cate had a big year as well:
Grace Fuss finished Runner-Up in Tri-Valley League Singles and won a round of CIF Individuals, before finishing the year ranked #525 in the country for her class.
Jackie Cai & Carol Cai won the Tri-Valley League Doubles Title and their first two matches in CIF Individuals. Jackie now sits at #860 in the country, while Carol is ranked #1098; Both are primed for a significant jump in the next year!
Summer Christensen & Sarah Polowczak completed a remarkable 26-0 regular season and went on to finish Runner-Up in league (l. to sisters Cai), before also making the third round of CIF Individuals.
Thorpe Tennis can boast a growing number of players active at the collegiate level, with Phillip Hicks and McKenna Madden making the club teams at Yale and Boston College (respectively). McKenna tried out along with 60 other young women for 6 roster spots and made the cut as a freshman!
Julia Gan began her season as a starter for Haverford College, but will transfer to NYU, where she had been heavily recruited last year, for the spring season.
Posted 40 blog entries, including many player photos, that were viewed by more than 1,400 visitors to this site.
Brought together Thorpe Tennis students for an awesome group lesson during the holidays that spanned six of the seven years I’ve been coaching in Santa Barbara (pictured at top).
Happy New Year to everyone out there reading “the blog” and I look forward to working together towards an even better 2017!
Another great year is in the books and I am thrilled by the progress my students have made in 2015. I’m already excitedly looking forward to raising the bar again in 2016, but before we get ahead of ourselves…
A few highlights from the year at Thorpe Tennis:
Worked with 63 different players from age 8 to 52.
Spent over 1,000 hours on-court teaching lessons and coaching high school matches.
Directed a second successful year of the Laguna Blanca Summer Tennis Camp, oriented towards middle schoolers and incoming freshmen interested in playing at the high school level.
Coached Laguna Blanca Boys’ Tennis to an 13-3 regular-season record and won a CIF playoff round for the third consecutive year.
Led Cate School Girls’ Tennis to what was likely the most successful season in team history, going 13-1 during the regular season and making the CIF D2 Quarterfinals.
Completed a two-year project with Edward Cho at Cate, helping him achieve his goal of going from JV to Varsity singles starter
Began utilizing photos and slow-motion video within lessons to give players another angle for understanding their game.
Helped Julia Gan finally break the top-400 in the country, while also winning the Tri-Valley League Singles Championship and getting widely recruited to play college tennis. We even made her an awesome recruiting video!
Had the pleasure of watching senior students matriculate to fine schools such as: Cal Poly SLO, St. Andrews, Carnegie Mellon, NYU, and University of Colorado at Boulder.
Expanded community interaction with my students, their families, and other supporters with 28 blog posts that were visited by 1,800 people and viewed 5,000 times. This year also featured many photos of players in action that are free to download and share!
Thanks to all of you for being part of my tennis family. It is my passion and pleasure to be part of yours. Here’s to another great year of tennis in Santa Barbara!
The Tri-Valley League Individuals Tournament was held at Cate today. All five teams (Cate, La Reina, Carpinteria, Malibu, Nordhoff) were represented by two singles players and two doubles teams each.
In what was expected to be a competition dominated by Cate and La Reina, Cate proved their strength with both singles players and doubles teams advancing to the semifinals and securing all-league honors. Continue reading →
For the second year running, pre-season was a welcome indicator that a new, invigorated team mentality is taking hold at Cate. Now in my 13th season as a high school coach, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team come back so ready to pick up where they left off nine months earlier. We even got a visit from alum Victoria Herman, who jumped right into play without missing a beat.
In addition to a good level of readiness, the girls’ team will benefit from the addition of a new assistant coach, Sara Scott. Now a mother of two, living in the Santa Barbara area, Coach Sara brings a wealth of experience as a top-ranked junior player and successful D1 athlete (she played four years for the UCLA Bruins). Continue reading →
On Thursday, we had the opportunity to learn from another highly decorated tennis player in Sara Scott. After a four-year turn at the #1 singles position for UCLA, Sara went on to be ranked as high as #400 in the world during her professional tennis career. She is a self-identified “aggressive baseliner,” and so her court was all about weight-transfer and driving through groundstrokes. After saying goodbye to Sara, we enjoyed a meal from Backyard Bowls before heading out for some more match-play in the afternoon.
During the last two days of camp, there was a dramatic shift in the Owl Points week-long competition, with Team Fresh 2.0 dominating the abbreviated format match-play in the afternoon and then fielding the top two doubles teams in the Friday morning doubles tournament. Coming from down 13-8, Team Fresh 2.0 ended up winning the competition 26-22.
Individual honors for the camp went to Taylor Kleine and Luke Williams, both of whom were models of competitive drive and sportsmanship.
Taylor won a number of doubles matches with different partners throughout the week and helped make the difference for his team on the last two days, going undefeated in singles and doubles play, earning himself MVP honors. Luke was our Coaches’ Award recipient, in part because of his strong play throughout the week, but even more so because he was a go-getter. Luke was ready to be challenged and to compete every day and was a total class-act in victory or defeat.
Harrison Fell and Ben Newton put on a spirited hat competition all week, something that has become a sort of tradition at Laguna Blanca Summer Tennis Camp. Who will be top hat next year?
We ended the camp with our customary pizza party and then moved on to the team award. As part of the team competition, the winning team got to take a photo with their coach in the owl suit, and despite protests from the losing coach, Tristan and I lined up for one round of “butts up,” during which not a single camper dealt a glancing blow. Luckily for us, not even coach Ben hit his mark. Maybe next time, guys!
On behalf of my staff, I ‘d like to thank all the campers, celebrity coaches and celebrity players that participated in our second Laguna Blanca Summer Tennis Camp. We’ll see you next year!