Congratulations to Girls' Varsity Tennis for winning the 2017 SPC Championship. The Mavericks won all of their matches by a score of 3-2 over Casady, Kinkaid, and Hockaday. This is the second SPC tennis title for the program (2001, 2017).
In SPC Girls Tennis, either Kinkaid or Hockaday has been crowned champion thirteen times out of the last fourteen years. So, it was not surprising that the Mavericks’ road to this year’s championship would have to go through Kinkaid and Hockaday.
In the first round of the 2017 championships, St. John’s, the South #1 seed, faced Casady, the North #4 seed. The Mavericks won all three singles matches while losing two close doubles matches to advance to the semi-finals against the Kinkaid Falcons.
The Falcons, South #3 seed, handed the Mavericks their only SPC counter loss of the regular season (3-2), earlier in April. To get a shot at Hockaday in the finals, St. John’s would need to go back to a proven formula to turn the tables on Kinkaid. After the Johnston sisters, Hannah ‘18 and Kat ’20, won their singles matches, the Mavericks needed a doubles line to win and advance.
Like they did in 2016 for a win in the SPC finals, the #2 Doubles team of Shelby Jordan ’19 and Leanna Shebib ’19 teamed up for another SPC victory and what turned out to be the deciding match against Kinkaid (6-2, 3-6, 6-4).
“We just let go,” said Shebib. “We played well together last year at SPC and the chemistry worked again.”
Captain Emma Shea ’17 and Sara Doyle ’20 lost their match in three sets in the longest match of the afternoon.
Going up against Hockaday for the SPC Championship would not just be about chemistry. It was about the numbers. After the Mavericks’ doubles teams split, the team score was 1-1 until St. John’s number one singles Sophia Huynh ’19 took over.
“Sophia had to beat a really good player from Hockaday who had defeated Sophia last year,” said Head Coach Sandy McLanahan. “With her impressive victory, Sophia gave us a 2-1 lead, and then Kat Johnston won at #3 singles to seal it.”
“We came out really strong,” said Hannah Johnston. “We put so much work into this. We drilled on hard shots with short back swings to get ready for Hockaday and their power game. Coach Mac is a fabulous coach. He taught us technique, movement and sportsmanship.”
“The line two doubles really played well,” said Shea, the only senior on the team. “We came so close to winning last year. I’m so proud of every single one of our players. The win was important. It shows we can take ourselves seriously now and for years to come.”
“In the last three years, we’ve gone from fifth to second to first and I think it is due to part to our lineup getting deeper and deeper every year, and the girls’ belief that they could go as far in the tournament as they were determined to,” said third year assistant coach Clo Thirouin. “They all worked really hard at practice and outside of practice to give themselves this opportunity."
As a student at Kinkaid in the 8th grade, Coach McLanahan trained with the boys’ varsity squad prior to going on to play tennis at Deerfield Academy in high school and then at Princeton in college. He subsequently coached the girls and boys tennis teams at Casady, winning SPC three times as the boys head coach. In 2001, McLanahan returned to his hometown of Houston to join the faculty at St. John’s to teach math, and coach Varsity girls’ soccer and Middle School girls tennis. A year later he began to assist Head Coach Susan Strohmeyer with Varsity Girls Tennis, and a few years later, McLanahan became the head coach for the girls tennis team. In March this year, he announced that the 2017 season would be his last as the head coach.
Early on in his sixteen years at St. John’s, McLanahan, also known as “Coach Mac,” did not find the same success he had achieved north of the Red River in Oklahoma. A man of patience and a soft voice could always been seen in his faded red jacket sitting next to courts watching his St. John’s teams work out their challenges like many math problems he has taught time and again. Most of the time the teams were in the consolation brackets. The last three years, however, his tennis formulas were starting to equate with more wins. St. John’s was ranked number one in the South Zone three consecutive times, and they finished runner-up in 2016. Nevertheless, Hockaday was last year’s champion and nine times prior, compared to St. John’s lonely 2001 title. Furthermore, on those occasions when Hockaday hosted the tournament in their terrific tennis facility, this may have made winning it all a little more difficult for the rest of the field. The Mavericks also graduated one of their more decorated players in Natasha Gonzalez ’16, who never lost a match in conference play in all four years on varsity.
“Coach Mac is a fabulous coach,’’ said captain Hannah Johnston ’18. “All of the girls put their hearts and souls into every match we played. Three years at the top in South Zone and then all of his coaching started to pay off. We are going to miss him.”
Coach Mac and Coach Throuin received autographed SPC conference t-shirts from their team after the win. All of the SPC schools were listed on the back including McLanahan’s old powers Kinkaid and Casady, and the new number one, St. John’s. His red jacket may be faded, but he has a new set of championship shirts to remind him of glory days past and what he has done for the future.
Sam Chambers – Athletic News