of extraordinary duos, and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers might come to
mind. So might Laurel and Hardy. And Rodgers and Hammerstein. How about
Bonnie and Clyde, for that matter?
Through the years, Pomona's joint athletic program with
Pitzer College has boasted some phenomenal pairs, as well--especially
on the tennis court.
In fact much of the history of NCAA Division III women's
doubles tennis has been written by such Pomona-Pitzer pairs as Lindberg
and Nilsen, Keeler and Cranston, Keeler and Hendricks, and Schwartz and
Since the NCAA began Nationals competition in Division
III women's tennis in 1982, 19 doubles titles have been awarded. Of those,
Pomona-Pitzer owns five--the most of any institution. Principia has four
and Williams and UC San Diego each possess two, while six others have
one title each.
Meghan Gould '01 and Sheree Schwartz '02 surprised everyone,
including themselves, when they nabbed title number five for Pomona-Pitzer
last May at the NCAA III tennis championships in Minnesota. As one of
the last of the 16 pairs invited to compete, Schwartz and Gould weren't
expected to make a huge splash. Instead, the on-fire duo didn't lose a
set throughout the entire tournament, and neither their semifinal nor
their final match extended past one hour.
For Coach Ann Lebedeff, it was a moment of enormous
pride. "I'll never forget the ease with which Meghan and Sheree won the
2000 doubles title. Their games complemented each other perfectly, with
Meghan aggressive at net and Sheree playing smartly on the baseline with
aggressive and angled returns and timely lobs."
For Gould, the experience was simply too perfect to
be real. "It felt like a dream," she recalls. "Sheree and I couldn't do
anything wrong. Just about every play, every shot, every anticipation
was executed perfectly. It was an amazing experience."
So how has Pomona-Pitzer become the pacesetter in Division
III women's doubles? The answer, according to the players, is coaching.
The answer, according to the coaches, is teamwork.
III Women's Tennis
Won by Pomona-Pitzer
Lindberg / Karen Nilsen
Keeler / Caryn Cranston
Keeler / Erin Hendricks
Keeler / Erin Hendricks
Schwartz / Meghan Gould
first won a Division III doubles title in 1988, when Julie Lindberg '88
and Karen Nilsen (Pitzer '89) teamed up to take the title. Two years later
Shelley Keeler '92 won the first of her three straight doubles titles
with two different partners--one with Caryn Cranston (Pitzer '92) in 1990,
and two with Erin Hendricks (Pitzer '92) in 1991 and 1992. Keeler also
won the singles title in 1992 and helped lead the women's squad to the
National team title that year.
a senior who also plays guard on the basketball team, began her collegiate
career under former women's coach Lisa Beckett, who oversaw the women's
program for 11 seasons from 1987 until 1998, when she stepped down from
coaching to spend more time with her family. Beckett is an associate professor
of physical education and is now the department's senior woman administrator
and physical education coordinator. Lebedeff, the current women's tennis
coach, came to Pomona-Pitzer three years ago, after years of phenomenal
success at Division II Cal Poly Pomona.
"Probably the most important reason why our teams have
done so well," says Gould, "is that we've had such wonderful coaches.
Lisa and Ann have taught me so much and played a major role in my success
as a tennis player at Pomona."
She adds that Lebedeff fostered the exceptionally strong
teamwork between the partners. "Ann always emphasizes communication between
points," continues Gould, an R.A. this year who plans on going to medical
school. "Sheree and I were constantly high-fiving and talking during matches.
In close matches, we were able to come up with strategies to win."
Lebedeff attributes much of the success both she and
Beckett have had in producing winning teams to the fact that they both
really love doubles tennis and the teamwork and tactics it requires. "In
collegiate play, doubles begins the team match, and players learn the
significance of winning the doubles points so as to put your team in an
advantageous position for singles play," she explains. "Doubles requires
unselfish play and by its nature promotes teamwork."
Nilsen, who partnered with Lindberg for the first of
the five Sagehen doubles titles, is now in her 11th year as the men's
and women's tennis coach at Caltech, also serving as senior woman administrator.
Like Gould, she remembers being anxious before the 1988 title match, but
seeing her nerves vanish once play began. "To this day I still remember
striking the first return of serve, and the amazing sense of calmness,
excitement and intensity."
Nilsen also recalls the levity that her partner Lindberg
brought to the court throughout the season. "Julie definitely knew how
to lighten the moment, even at critical times in a match. She had a great
sense of humor, both on and off the court. You couldn't help but smile
and laugh when you were with her."
She also gives much of the credit to Beckett, whom she
termed a "role model." In fact, when Beckett took a maternity leave in
1990, she asked Nilsen to serve as interim coach, and Nilsen coached Keeler
and Cranston to their doubles win at nationals.
That title was Keeler's first, but she also recalls
a match the year prior when she played with Nilsen as doubles partners.
Keeler says she learned a valuable lesson at the national tournament about
mental toughness and dealing with the pressure of being a favorite. During
her time at Pomona, Keeler had three partners: Nilsen, Cranston and Hendricks,
and she remembers each of them fondly. "The playing styles of each partner
were very different," says Keeler, now living in Portland, Oregon, and
working as a product marketing manager for Intel. "And they all brought
incredible skills to the table. Karen was calm, cool and collected all
the time, and she never let the opponents rattle her. Caryn was an energetic,
powerful player who used her emotions as a tool. Erin was a great volleyer
with incredible touch, and a very good friend."
Keeler also rattles off a list of reasons why the Sagehens
excel: Both Pomona and Pitzer are strong schools able to attract a lot
of tennis talent. Sunny weather allows the team to practice outdoors regularly.
Strong local competition means the team can play challenging Division
I and II without much travel. But she too comes back to the coaching.
"Lisa was a master at teaching us to be competitive
within our team--especially during the first few weeks of practice when
the lineup is determined--but supportive and respectful for the successes
of our teammates," she recalls. "She helped us understand how to deal
with the pressure and competitiveness so that it would never damage or
affect our relationships."
Hendricks, Keeler's partner for two championships, also
cites the way Beckett fostered teamwork. "Lisa was a master of this,"
says Hendricks, who lives in Newport Beach and just started her own e-commerce
distribution company. "We used to start every practice, get-together,
or match with a team litany. This helped focus us."
She adds that part of their teamwork was simple gratitude.
"Because Shelley had such a strong serve, I was able to hit many volley
winners against a defensive return. That always kept me ready, alert,
and wanting to set my partner up to hit winners. She made my job easy,
and I wanted to return the favor."
For Beckett, doubles play was important not only because
of the points it contributed to the team's score. She also found it to
be an important and therapeutic part of practice.
"ÔSingles is often a grind-it-out, lonely battle," she
says. "We would have entire practices that were focused on doubles skills,
and the students would love it. It would put them in good moods and get
them laughing and enjoying each other and the game--this proved very important
in the long 16- or 17-week season."
Today, the championships are in the history books, but
the memories are still fresh, many of the friendships are still solid,
and the lessons learned are still meaningful.
As Hendricks says: "I recognize my tennis training with
Lisa Beckett in all areas of my life: the need for focus in my work, practicing
on weaknesses, perfecting my strengths, being sensitive to those around
me, learning to respect others' diversity and learning to trust those
around me."--Kirk Reynolds