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Spring 2003
Volume 39, No. 3
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PCMOnline Editor
Sarah Dolinar

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The Litany

The first entire team to be inducted into the Pomona-Pitzer Athletic Hall of Fame recalls the “power of intention and clarity.”

On a crisp, sunny January day in 1992, the Pomona-Pitzer women’s tennis team gathered on Pauley Courts for the opening practice of the year. In a circle, the team falteringly read in unison a team litany written by Coach Lisa Beckett.

“I love to play tennis…”

After disappointing NCAA III National finishes in 1989, 1990 and 1991, the athletes looked around at their senior-laden team and knew experience was on their side. By April, the squad had gone through dozens of recitations of the litany as they completed their regular season 19–3. They entered the 1992 NCAA III Championships as the top-ranked team.

After a first-round bye, the Sagehens defeated Swarthmore in the second round and Gustavus Adolphus in the semi-finals. On May 15, 1992, Pomona-Pitzer and second-ranked Kenyon stepped onto the courts to determine the national champion.

The two squads split the singles, 3–3, then headed into doubles, where the Sagehens won two out of three matches to claim the first national team title in any sport in school history.

This past November, in a warm, nostalgic ceremony on campus during Homecoming, the squad received the first-ever team induction into the Athletic Hall of Fame.

Heady stuff. But as you listened at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, no one talked about sets or points. Everyone’s speeches and remembrances focused on growth, closeness and the team litany.

“…I always think, talk and act positively…”

“I think the litany reflected the things we’d learned along the way,” recalls Coach Beckett, now the Senior Woman Administrator in the Physical Education Department. “It was never just words.”

Arriving on campus in the fall of ’88, Shelley Keeler ’92, Brenda Peirce Barnett ’92 and Erin Hendricks (Pitzer ’92) enrolled in an advanced tennis class taught by Beckett, who was impressed by their quality and amount of play. During that first spring together, Pomona-Pitzer twice beat powerful UC San Diego in the regular season, only to fall in the second round at Nationals to Kenyon. UCSD then advanced on to win the national crown.

“As a team they were young,” says Beckett. “The first year was more a lack of experience. We were talented enough, but we hadn’t been to the championships. For the most part they got along well, but they had to learn to get along better. That was the real learning process, I think, to get along well enough to stay together at the end.”

“…I always work as hard as I can...”

The second year, when Beckett took a temporary leave to have her first child, Karen Nilsen (Pitzer ’88) took over the reins. “She had her hands full,” says Beckett about Nilsen’s charges. “It was hard and there were all kinds of things happening. The second year the team dynamics weren’t what they needed to be.”

In 1991, Pomona-Pitzer entered the national tournament seeded #1. Emory hosted the event in Atlanta. “They had a huge hometown crowd, and they were everywhere,” recalls Beckett. “I was pretty sure where we’d win and where we were going to struggle. I was coaching a singles match and the doubles started. Erin and Shelley hadn’t lost a match all year. The crowd was really into it. We lost the first set and I went down there. Shelley had fallen and the crowd had cheered the fall, and both Shelley and Erin had gotten upset. So I tried to calm them down but it was too far gone. We lost that point and eventually lost the match. We went to Subway at about 11 that night and just cried, cried, cried. It was a lesson about maintaining your composure through everything. We lost control, and that’s a really good lesson.”

“…I am confident, relaxed and focused...”

After three years of heartbreak, Coach Beckett wrote the litany and presented it to the 1992 team to recite before every practice and match. In addition, she scheduled tough teams, such as Cal State LA, Loyola Marymount and Cal State Fullerton.

“We lost some, but it was good,” says Beckett. “It made us tougher. We talked about it that way. By the end we’d gone through everything. We were experienced, we got along, we knew how to handle pressure and crowds. We weren’t going to let anything get to us. And then we committed to it.”

The squad breezed to a conference tournament title without losing a set, then played the annual Ojai Tournament. Through it all, the team kept repeating the litany. “We were saying it before, during, and after,” continues Beckett. “It just became more intense.”

“..I like myself; I like and support my teammates and coaches; my teammates and coaches like and support me…”

The 1992 Nationals were held in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Coach Beckett remembers silently pleading, “Let us play anybody but Kenyon.’ We’d lost to them in 1988. And then we’d lost to them the year we’d beaten UC San Diego twice. They had spotters on every court. I heard them talking by the pool, and they knew exactly where they were going to beat us. They were so professional and so confident.”

Pomona-Pitzer beat Gustavus Adolphus, 7–2, to advance to the final. Meanwhile, Kenyon downed UC San Diego, 9–0, to set up a showdown.

“That day we said our litany when we woke up,” says Beckett. “We were standing at our cars at the Residence Inn and Shelley came up and said, ‘We have to do the litany before we leave the parking lot!’ So she brought everybody over. They were laughing and upbeat and really excited. I thought that was so good because they were going to have fun. They were a little nervous, of course, but they were confident and relaxed.”

“…I believe we can win the national tournament...”

At the match, Beckett remembers the day going in slow motion. “I had a mental check-list: OK, Shelley’s won hers; OK, Erin’s having a tough time; Tricia [Corran Musick ’92] and Brenda [Peirce Barnett ’92] are battling in close matches. And, oh, Debbie [Boger ’93] just won the first set! And every ball Debbie hit landed about three feet from the baseline. I didn’t even want to look. And Cranny [Caryn Cranston (Pitzer ’92)] had split sets and was in a tight third set. And—oh!—Debbie just won hers!”

The #1 doubles team of Keeler and Hendricks won to give Pomona-Pitzer the lead, 4–3, with two doubles matches left. Boger and Amy Burton ’92 were playing at #3 doubles, while Peirce and Cranston were leading 5–3 in the second set at #2 doubles.

“They’d had a great season,” says Beckett about Cranston and Peirce. “They knew that we had to win there, and that’s partly why they were together. It was only fitting that they won it. What two people would you rather have out there when everything’s on the line than the two people who are the most selfless?

“It was like a moment in time that you just want everything to stand still. You never, never forget what it felt like—everybody—parents, family, the kids. A lot of the other teams and coaches felt it, too. We were this little Pomona-Pitzer: hard schools to get into, limited out-of-season work, we were a restricted Division III school, we didn’t have coaches everywhere. I think that made it even more meaningful.

“I just remember the feeling when they won the very last point. I watched Cranny’s head, and watched the ball go wide. Everybody was jumping up and down, and I just put my head down and went, ‘Aaaaaaaaah.’”

“…I want to win the national tournament.”

At the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 10 years later, players take the stage to cheers and tears from the crowd of 140. Peirce speaks on the invaluable merits of athletics at Pomona-Pitzer, Cranston calls Beckett her ‘life coach,’ and Keeler credits Beckett with pulling the team together: “Lisa really understood what it took. She knew how to work with each of our personalities to make us successful.”

Hendricks echoes her teammate in her comments onstage: “Lisa incorporated something our senior year that changed my entire life and who I am, and how I show up in this world. Every day we spoke this litany, and the last two lines were, ‘I believe we can win’ and ‘I want to win.’ I find myself telling that story over and over again—about the power of having intention and clarity, and speaking of what it is you really want to go after and how.”

Beckett sums up the atmosphere of the season, and of the decade that has led to the induction evening. “You hate to make it bigger than it was, but it was big for us. In the big scheme of things it’s not that important, but it was important to us. We made it big. In the end, our dream came true.”

—Kirk Reynolds