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.
In the week since my last post, much has changed, especially as California leads the country towards “stay at home” policy. I had four predictions about Coronavirus and it’s impact last week, which all still appear to be spot-on, but there are a few new things to address.
The stay at home request from Governor Newsom means I’ll be moving to on-court tennis hiatus for the next four weeks (at least). Some of you have asked what that’s going to be like for me, as someone who is not salaried, gets paid by the hour, and isn’t eligible for unemployment benefits.
As most of you know, my business cycle is typically 30-50 days on/5-15 days off. I have already worked 71 of the first 80 days of the year and had planned to be in Europe for part of this upcoming period. While I might go a little stir crazy and I know that I’ll miss my students greatly, Thorpe Tennis is in a great position to weather this storm.
There are many other local businesses that are not in a similar position, as well as many employees of those businesses that must be very concerned about the immediate future. It’s my belief that while the government can play a part in maintaining some basic safety nets, the very best way to have a better society is to be a good neighbor (and yes, I definitely watched Mr. Rogers as a kid).
To that end, I’m buying up gift cards at all my favorite local businesses and tipping a little extra for that delivery meal. As our government discusses how to implement no/low-cost small business loans, consider that those of us with the resources can provide the same thing directly to the businesses that bring us joy through good times and bad.
If I had to guess, I’d say tennis will probably not resume until about May 1, at which point I think we’ll all be ready to quickly make up for lost time. If we take this moment to consider what a valuable part of life getting to share the game of tennis with each other is, hopefully we can build a tidal wave of enthusiasm to have a great summer season.
In the meantime, I will not be idle. I’ll be working on new drills and lesson ideas as well as studying and perhaps sharing a significant backlog of videos recorded over the years. Expect a post or two here, with some tips and concepts to consider for when you are finally able to pick up the racquets again.
As I look back on the last few years living in Santa Barbara, it seems like there’s an almost annual winter calamity that disrupts the peace in this beautiful place. Years of drought, then the fires, then the mudslide, and now we are being tested again.
I won’t get into how I feel about COVID-19, other than to say these four things: 1) I believe it will spread much more widely, 2) I don’t think it’s as mortally dangerous as the media churn is making us feel, 3) I do feel it’s important to take precautions to protect those with serious pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly, 4) I think the global economic impact, particularly in places like Venezuela where oil is food and things are already desperate, will likely kill more people than the virus itself.
What I want to talk about is not Coronavirus specifically, but a broader philosophy that gives me comfort in these times of chaos. It’s my hope that sharing some of my deeply held personal beliefs might help others and that’s something to which I have dedicated myself.
Many of you know I’m into doing things like 200-mile, single-day bike rides and multi-day treks through the Andes and all sorts of other madness. When some poor, unsuspecting soul asks me what I did over the weekend, they often find themselves in pain just thinking about what I tell them.
What you might not all know is the reason I pursue these sorts of activities. While it’s clear that you need physical strength to complete those sorts of tasks and I enjoy that kind of proficiency, what I’m chasing is mostly mental/spiritual.
I believe we as humans are better when we are tested. There is a clarity that comes with confronting uncertainty, a fog that lifts when you face a challenge where the outcome isn’t a given. In all phases of life (school, work, relationships), we progress through grappling with difficulties and persevering against obstacles. A life without challenge is a recipe for mediocrity and that’s part of what makes learning and competing in tennis such a beneficial tool for life.
Once you accept that each obstacle is actually an opportunity to progress, you have a distinct advantage that nothing and no one can take from you. You can be positive when others despair and you can be ready to lead when others are fearful.
Those who have spent time on-court with me should be familiar with the concept of reframing; you cannot lose when you set the conditions for success. You cannot be negative when you know that every thoughtful interaction, whether painful or joyous, yields a knowledge that will serve you in the future. My message to you all is to embrace the uncertainty and let it galvanize your inner strength.
Now, here is what I intend to do during this time of chaos: once this rain passes, I will continue to teach. I know many of my young students will be anxious and probably more than a little stir-crazy after the first few days away from school (even the most dedicated teenager cannot play video games or pursue social media perfection forever!). I know that many of my adult students will be looking for an outlet as well. I know that in this time of social distancing, we do still need to interact. I know that in this unusual time, we need some normalcy and tennis is just the thing!
I intend to do my private lessons as usual, as well as Sunday Sessions and the Mini-Camp that is scheduled for the first week of April. Despite there being no cases of Coronavirus in Santa Barbara County at this time, I will be keeping an eye on group sizes and will ask that anyone feeling sick please sit out until COVID-19 can be ruled out. We’re also going to be washing our hands a lot!
So join me in taking proper precautions, but continuing to live this life in a productive and positive way. We’ll get through this, Thorpe Tennis Community! Keep calm, carry on.
Laguna Blanca made it two-for-two in early-season matches, taking a 15-3 victory over Cabrillo High School in Lompoc today.
The win was bolstered by three 6-0 sets from Ryan Purkait at the #2 singles position. Purkait, a junior who spent the majority of the last two seasons at #1 doubles, is now 6-0 on the season as a singles player.
The Laguna Blanca Owls boys’ tennis team got the season off to a winning start with a 13-5 victory over visiting Santa Ynez High School (1-1).
How it Happened:
The first round of play was very even, with Santa Ynez taking early leads at #2 singles and #2 and #3 doubles and Laguna up by small margins in the other sets. However, the Owls overcame the overall the “beginning-of-season-jitters” to take all but the #3 doubles for a 5-1 lead.
From there, Laguna continued to roll, winning the second and third rounds 4-2, thanks to six set-wins in singles and seven in doubles. Junior Ryan Purkait recorded a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 sweep while playing at the #3 singles position, while junior/senior combo Nic Richmond and Kevin Khodabandehlou swept with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 showing on the day.
The Owls also got two of three from John-Henry Schulz in singles, as well as doubles pairings Rodrick Zhu/Owen Pryor and Ben Rodgers/Aiden Meisel. Senior captain Kai Nakamura took an important 7-5 victory at the #1 singles position, despite illness, and finished 1-1 on the day.
Coach Thorpe’s Comments:
To be honest, the first match of the season is always a bit of a question mark, so I was super impressed by the level my guys showed in this season-opener. The match was very close early on and, of course, everyone’s going to be nervous, but they came through and took control of the match.
I was particularly pleased with the way Ryan played in what was essentially his singles debut for our team. In doubles, there was a ton of good stuff going on, but I saw major improvement in particular from Rodrick; the kid abhorred doubles last season, but he stepped up big-time for us today and showed us how hard he’s been working since the end of last season.
What’s next for the Owls?
Laguna Blanca will play away on Thursday against Cabrillo High School in Lompoc at 3pm.
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!
As many of you know, I was at one point engaged in developing a travel business that combined my love for writing, researching, and helping people explore the world. While I’ve been fortunate that my primary business, Thorpe Tennis, has been successful and very demanding of my productive time, I’ve still always felt that Thorpe Travel was more on hiatus than in retirement.
In the years since I stopped blogging and writing for other travel websites, I’ve helped plan a number of honeymoons and vacations for friends and friends-of-friends, as well as hand out at least half-a-dozen Alaska Air Companion Passes, amongst other travel-hacking tips and tricks.
Most of all, I’ve continued to aggressively travel and explore the world, and particularly to learn about a few places in much more depth. In 2020, I am considering doing some travel writing for other websites again, but I’ve decided to first-off share some of my gems with my favorite community of people.
Throughout this post, you’ll get a look into my 2019 travels across seven countries, from a cyclist’s paradise in Spain to the famous beaches of Rio and many places in-between.
Beginning in late 2018 and continuing throughout 2019, I turned my focus on one of my absolute favorite countries in the world: Colombia. I’ve made it my mission, just as I did with Mexico before, to go beyond the largest and most touristy cities in search of a complete picture of Colombia and its potential as the second most bio-diverse country in the world.
While I visited many cities and regions throughout Colombia this year, I’ll keep my description here to the places I went in Colombia that most foreigners that go there never encounter.
Santander Region, Colombia
The Chicamocha Canyon is perhaps the natural highlight of the Santander Region of Colombia. When we in the US think of canyons, the Grand Canyon always comes to mind as the biggest and, well, “grandest.” Chicamocha is actually 10% deeper than the Grand Canyon, so that should give some perspective (and the photos will remove any doubt).
Santander is also known for Barichara, the quaint little town that is consistently voted most beautiful in Colombia. I spent two days hiking from Refugio La Roca in Los Santos (at the rim of the canyon), following what’s known as the “Camino Real.” In total, 18 miles of mixed terrain were covered in what were very warm and dry conditions.
I would be remiss not to mention the many Venezuelan families I saw walking along the roadside as I made my way back to the Bucaramanga Airport after my hike. Santander runs along the Colombia-Venezuela border in the middle part of the country and with conditions grim in Venezuela, many are forced to pack what will fit on their backs and walk to more opportunities in Colombia. My heart aches for the people of Venezuela, some of whom have become good friends throughout my travels in Latin America.
Sierra Nevado de Tolima
My final adventure of the year went even further afield, into the high Andes Mountains to visit a glaciated volcano. Sierra Nevado de Tolima is accessed through the “Eje Cafetero,” the eye of the Colombian coffee region.
From the Pueblo Patrimonio town of Salento, one can hire an old US Military jeep called a “Willy” to take you to the Cocora Valley, home to the national tree of Colombia. The Wax Palm, growing to a height of more than 100 feet, is the tallest palm tree in the world, and they are quickly disappearing from existence.
From Valle Cocora, I ventured through 36 miles of jungle, muddy marsh-like plateaus, the rare “paramo del Quindío,” and up to over 14,000 feet of elevation to reach the base of Volcano Tolima, one of three volcanoes in the region. All three were once heavily glaciated, but now one no longer sports its icy top-hat and even Tolima, which reaches up over 17,000 feet into the sky is predicted to be in its last decade or two of glacier lifespan.
The going was hard, with elevation, steep trails, and mud strong enough to pull my shoe off on one occasion, but all was worthwhile. The few other hikers we encountered all had many stories to tell and the family that gave us three square meals and a bunk each night (for $10 US!) was warm and hospitable.
Other Places I Visited in 2019
In addition to spending 43 days exploring Colombia, I also visited six other countries in 2019:
General Reflection about Travel and Work
The sum of these adventures is so much more than what they look like in photos. These are beautiful places, yes, but they are also filled with friendly people and opportunities for growth.
As the Thorpe Tennis year-in-review post will attest, I was very hard at work in Santa Barbara this year. Travel has a restorative effect on me, keeping me more than excited to be on the courts almost literally every day I’m in Santa Barbara. It may look like a life of extremes, but really, it’s a life of balance. I love my work and I love to explore, so I organize my life in a way that allows me to put 100% into each of those things in their own time.
Cate seniors Grace Fuss and Carol Cai needed just 45 minutes to dispatch their Edison High School opponents in the play-in round of CIF Sectionals down in Seal Beach yesterday afternoon.
The Cate duo was untouchable in their 6-1, 6-0 victory over Zoe Coggins and Kailee You. Coggins is a nationally-ranked senior who has already been signed by D2 Dominican University of San Rafael, California. Her partner is also a nationally-ranked player, making the overwhelming victory all the more impressive.
The victory follows a bye and two straight-set wins for Cai and Fuss in the CIF Regional event, held last week in Carpinteria. The Cate team had been seeded third in that draw and received the Santa Barbara Round Table press luncheon’s “Athlete of the Week” award for their play in the tournament.
Coach Thorpe’s Comments:
Carol has been here before and won in this round (two years ago with her sister Jackie), but to be honest, I’ve never seen either Carol or Grace play so freely on the doubles court. The word is devastating; they were absolutely devastating. You could see the morale of their opponents dropping with every big serve from Grace and every down-the-line forehand winner from Carol. They were also finishing points at net and made very few unforced errors.
What’s important is they didn’t do anything beyond what I’ve known they’re capable of, but it’s more that they put it all together at once and carried that momentum from first point to last. My girls played with confidence and poise today, and if that’s any indication of the future, they are far from done in this CIF Individuals tournament. While the majority of the players remaining in this tournament are either signed or receiving interest from D1 collegiate programs, no team is safe in this draw with the Cate girls still in play.
What’s Next for the Cate Girls?!
The Cate pair will return to Seal Beach Tennis Center on Thursday at 10:30am for the Round-of-16.
Cate Girls’ Tennis came tantalizingly close to it’s first CIF Division 1 playoffs win today against visiting Calabasas High School. After two rounds, the match stood at 6-6, but Calabasas rallied to take four sets in the final round and hand the Rams their first loss of the season, 10-8.
Cate got an absolutely dominant performance out of senior team captain Grace Fuss, who defeated her three opponents 6-2, 6-1, 6-0. Two of those wins came against nationally-ranked players, with Lauren Sebastian ranked as high as 452 in the country in 2019 and Ellina Ivanova currently ranked 529 in the country for her class.
Cate came into the match understanding that, with usual #2 singles player Aminah Hill still sidelined by injury, they would have to win the match through the doubles side of the scoresheet. Carol Cai and Mia Foster combined to make a senior pairing at the #3 position and came out red-hot with a 6-2 win. Sophomores Julianna Forry and Maesa Vongkusolkit continued their winning ways, following up a 17-3 Tri-Valley League record with a 6-3 victory over the Calabasas #2 team.
Junior Fritze Mayer and sophomore Ashi Kamra anchored the doubles lineup, following their run to the TVL doubles tournament semifinals. The pair had a 3-2 lead against the Calabasas #1 team, but ended up falling 4-6 in a very competitive match.
Mayer and Kamra rallied to take a 10-8 tie-break win in the second round to keep the team afloat, while Cai and Foster cruised to a 6-1 victory against the #2 team. Forry and Vongkusolkit stayed close with the Calabasas #1’s throughout their second-round match, but the experienced Calabasas team broke serve and held to finish the set with a 6-3 win.
In the third round of play, Cate got quick wins from Fuss and Mayer/Kamra, but could not add to the win-tally, dropping the remaining sets to come just shy of victory.
Coach Thorpe’s Comments:
When you look at the players that had an impact on this match, you’ve obviously got to love what the seniors brought to the table, with Grace rolling her three opponents and Carol and Mia taking two solid wins in their first match together this season.
That said, there’s also a lot to be feeling good about with regards to the players we’ll have back next season. We’ve got three sophomores who formed a crucial part of the doubles lineup, where last season one was playing #3 doubles, another was playing JV, and the third wasn’t even playing high school tennis. That’s a big transformation for Ashi, Julianna, and Maesa. Fritze, who’s already been an important part of the team for a few years now also clearly took a step forward this season and is set up to have a stellar senior campaign in 2020.
Even our #2 and #3 singles players, who got shut out today, have exhibited huge growth from the beginning of the season to now. Yuki Kobayashi is getting closer to cracking the tournament-level as a singles player and freshman Ellie Tunnell totally outperformed expectation this season. They had a hard job today but they gave everything and took some games off of some very experienced ranked players.
To sum it up, the score says we lost today, but to me this match was still an expression of the growth of this team from beginning of season to end. None of these girls are the same players they were two and a half months ago. Meanwhile, the constant across a number of seasons now at Cate is that even when we face schools with many multiples our student population, we rise to the occasion and make it a battle. We can take pride in our performance today and that’s what matters the most.
What’s Next for Cate Tennis?
While team tennis is finished for 2019, senior captains Grace Fuss and Carol Cai will play in the CIF Regional Individuals event held at Cate School and Carpinteria High on Monday, November 25th. They hope to improve upon their 3rd-round performance in 2018 and return to CIF Sectionals, where Carol made the Round-of-16 as a sophomore with her sister Jackie in 2017.
The Cate School played host, today, to the annual Tri-Valley League Individuals Tournament. It was mixed fortunes for the five schools in the league, with four schools sharing the finals positions, as Cate’s top-2 eschewed singles league glory for a shot at a deep run in CIF Individuals.
In singles, the top two seeds each dominated their opponents with straight-set wins. Top-seed Helena Insua of St. Bonaventure won her quarterfinal round 6-0, 6-0 and followed that up with a 6-0, 6-1 win over #3-seed Jacqueline Kong (Thacher) 6-0, 6-1.
Insua will face Natalie Cheng (Thacher) in the singles final, after Cheng took both of her matches on the day without dropping a single game. The third place singles match will take place between Yuki Kobayashi (Cate) and Jacqueline Kong.
In doubles, top-seeded Grace Fuss and Carol Cai (Cate) cruised to 6-0, 6-0 and 6-0, 6-1 victories. The team is comprised of the top-two singles players in the TVL this season, with the intention of the pair going deep into CIF Individuals.
On the other side of the draw, #2-seeded Fritze Mayer and Ashi Kamra, also of Cate, were narrowly defeated by last year’s third place team of Alyssa McClain and Jolie Seemayer (Foothill Tech). The Foothill Tech team took the match 7-6, 4-6, 10-3 to book their place in the finals against Fuss and Cai.
Coach Thorpe’s Comments:
On it’s face, today was maybe not the dominant display you’d expect for our team. It’s true that we haven’t lost a league match since 2014, but our league has some very solid players and we made some strategic decisions going into the tournament.
Grace and Carol were just a point or two away from winning their third CIF Regionals match as a doubles team last year, and we felt they have the chance to really do some damage as a doubles team.
That meant Fritze wouldn’t get to play with her normal partner Carol in individuals, but I think Ashi has really stepped up her game this year and they very nearly pulled off the win. That match between our girls and the Foothill Tech girls was a joy to watch. I can’t even be disappointed about the loss because I saw Fritze and Ashi reach their highest level in that match. On our team, that’s the big win and I’m very proud of their performance against a worthy opponent.
In singles, Yuki has made big strides this season and she took a nice win in the quarterfinals. Though she lost in the semifinal, she came off the court smiling and happy with her performance, and she’s still got a chance to take third place in league.
Mia Foster also got the opportunity to lay it on the line in singles. As a senior who’s spent most of her career playing doubles, I thought she played great, although it didn’t go her way.
In short, every participant from our team got something good out of the tournament today, and some very deserving players from other teams got through and will surely represent our league well in CIF Individuals.
What’s Next for Cate Girls’ Tennis?
All TVL Finals and 3rd-Place matches will take place at the Cate School at 2:30pm on Thursday, October 31st. Following the completion of league individuals, Cate will play in the first round of the CIF D1 Team Playoffs the following Wednesday.