Bearcat Women's Tennis Team is Young and Talented

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110 and
Andrew Monbouqette, Athletics Communications Student Writer

SALEM, ORE. -- As the Willamette women’s tennis team prepares for its 2009 spring opener against non-conference opponent Southern Oregon University, Head Coach Becky Roberts is confident and optimistic. She’s eager to break what she sees as a growing trend in starting the season slowly, with few early wins, then moving into top gear toward the midway point of the schedule.

Willamette opener with SOU is set for Saturday, Feb. 7 at 1 p.m. The match will be held at the Courthouse Tennis Club in Salem, Ore. (1339 Madison NE).

Roberts and the Bearcat tennis team have been working hard and are ready for the spring season to start. With five of last year’s top eight players returning to the team, including lone senior Abby Funabiki (Pullman, WA/Pullman HS/Quinnipiac University), and several committed and talented freshmen adding depth to the squad, the Bearcats hope to give their coach a quality start to the spring season.

Entering the spring, the Bearcats find themselves on solid ground, but with room for improvement. They finished the 2008 spring season with an NWC record of 8-8 for fifth place in the standings and a berth into the NWC Tournament.

This past fall, freshman ace Shannon Palmer (Salem, OR/Sprague HS) had an excellent beginning to her Willamette career. She will be looking to build on her second place finish at the Wilson/ITA Small College Northwest Regional Tournament. Equally noteworthy is the success she shared with Funabiki, as they made it to the semifinals in the ITA Regional doubles bracket.

Roberts identified Palmer, Kristen Dedijer-Small (Fr., Dallas, OR/Oaks Christian/Chemeketa CC), Alyssa Morrison (Jr., Anacortes, WA/Anacortes HS), Funabiki, and Samantha Wong (Jr., Honolulu, HI/Iolani School) as the top five players who will lead the Bearcats. Funabiki enters the spring season as the most experienced member of the squad. She was 10-8 last spring at the #4 singles position.

Roberts believes that although the current Bearcat squad is younger than previous years, the team is a bit more talented. She said that the younger players have a lot of potential and that she’s looking forward to seeing what strides they can make. Mixing a blend of experienced and inexperienced players is a challenge in any sport, but Roberts is more than willing to give a spot in the top six to a freshman who earns it.

“I hope to rotate the younger girls in throughout the season to give them some experience and see what they can do,” she said.

Pushing for a top six spot on the team are Fabi Dieguez (Fr., Salem, OR/Sprague HS/Oregon State Univ.), Jamie Slonaker (So., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS), Annika Moffett (Fr., Portland, OR/Lincoln HS), Brooke Sessums (So., Stayton, OR/Stayton HS), Emily Bee (Fr., Portland, OR/Lincoln HS), Sylvia Kim (Fr., Beaverton, OR/Southridge HS), and Reva Main (Fr., Naches, WA/Naches Valley HS).

Ambition and confidence are crucial to athletic competition. Luckily for Willamette, Roberts embodies these aspects of the game. She has assembled a competent squad capable of upsets as well as consistency. When asked about her goals for the season, she responded without a beat, “To win the conference and an automatic trip to Regionals.”

This kind of focused attitude is no doubt resonating with the Bearcats as they look forward to another season of NCAA Division III action. Roberts anticipates that Linfield College, Whitman College and Whitworth University will provide the strongest opposition in the NWC.

Roberts expects the team to be prepared for each week of the season. She has been impressed by the hard work of the Bearcats during practice sessions.

“They’re eager to play, and I’m excited to see them play as well,” she said.

Shannon Palmer from nearby Sprague HS took second place in singles at the Wilson/ITA Small College Northwest Regional this past fall.

Shannon Palmer from nearby Sprague HS took second place in singles at the Wilson/ITA Small College Northwest Regional this past fall.

Abby Funabiki is Willamette's only seniors this season.

Abby Funabiki is Willamette's only seniors this season.