by Dale Goodwin (’86)
So it’s April Fools’ Day, and the Gonzaga women’s tennis team is on the road in the San Francisco Bay Area. Assistant Coach Megan Falcon is the team’s designated driver. All-WCC senior Sam Polayes is designated navigator, riding shotgun and spearheading a caper with all four freshman team members. They take a picture of a navigation app and text it to Coach Megan’s phone, then make sure the photo is displaying in place of the actual app. Falcon can’t get the navigation function to work. It’s stuck. She keeps tapping the screen, and it doesn’t respond. Coach looks in the rearview mirror and sees her
“kids” laughing uncontrollably. Prank successful.
It’s all part of this team’s crusade to build family.
“We also put together a Running Man Challenge video,” says freshman Nevada Apollo, from where else Las Vegas. Running Man Challenge is a recent dance video craze that went viral after several athletic teams shared their versions, which were highlighted on the “Ellen” show.
“We were in the hotel, on top of the car, on the court… coaches videotaped the whole dance routine,” says Texan Domonique Garley, another of GU’s fab freshmen.
Getting Serious about Being Great
All dancing aside, Coach D.J. Gurule’s program earned more dual wins (16) and finished higher (2nd) in league standings last spring than any team in Gonzaga women’s tennis history. And, it turns out, there is something extraordinary about GU’s four freshmen. They combined for a singles record of 87-34.
“From the beginning, the coaches emphasized development over results,” says Sophie Whittle, a freshman from Nipomo, California, and both a firstteam and second-team All-WCC selection. “We found that we do a lot better when we’re concentrating on getting better and pushing each other. We’re not worrying about winning and losing.”
“This is the most talented class we have ever had,” Gurule says. “What may not be as obvious to someone just reading the paper is the quality of kids they are. They not only bought into our program, but they bought into what a special place Gonzaga University is, and they all wanted to be a part of that.”
The program has one simple mantra that Gurule, and his seniors, ask every player to own: Make the person to the right and to the left of you better every day. “That’s the one code we can’t break,” says freshman Graciela Rosas of Mexicali, Mexico.
Last year’s seniors – Polayes, Melanie Yates and Sissi Koehler – made sure that standard was kept, on the court, inside the classroom and in the community.
“You see these seniors’ success in so many ways. One will be the owner of a successful company, another a doctor and another a sports psychologist,” Gurule surmises.
In addition to the caliber of newcomers and the leadership from the seniors, Gurule cites the Stevens Center as another factor in his team’s rise in college tennis. “The players have such great pride in their locker room. Our players use it whenever and for whatever they want. This facility is an extension of our pride in the program. We run camps here in the summer. No kids are getting heatstroke or sunburns in our controlled 70-degree indoor environment. We can videotape every youngster and give them direct feedback,” Gurule says. “And one of my favorite things to do is watch the expression on a recruit’s or an opposing player’s face when they walk in here for the first time. This is definitely one of, if not the best, college tennis centers on the West Coast.”
In the end, Gurule says, “If our women feel like family, and this is their home, they will fight tooth and nail for each other.”
And that is the key for this team’s success.
FAB 4 FRESHMEN
In spring 2016, Gonzaga’s freshmen posted the following marks:
Sophie Whittle: 22-11 singles, 25-10 doubles, All-WCC in both
Domonique Garley: 25-6 singles, 19-9 doubles, set GU singles win record
Nevada Apollo: 21-10 singles, 3-1 in WCC
Graciela Rosas: 19-7 singles, 4-2 in WCC