Tennis: Woodburn girls have numbers, enthusiasm
When Woodburn head coach Jeremy Black was preparing for his first season at the helm of girls tennis program, he made a promise to all potential players — no cuts.
Black was new to the area and reached out to other tennis coaches from the Mid-Willamette Conference who had experience playing against Woodburn. They told him he'd be lucky to field a full team, so Black figured it was more important to build a base of players this season before even thinking about having kids try out to be part of the team.
"Girls around campus would ask me if they could join and if I was planning on cutting anyone," Black said. "I told them I was not going to cut anyone and that they should come out."
When Black came out to the Woodburn High School tennis courts for the first day of practice in March, he was greeted by a throng of 43 girls eager to take up the sport. With only four singles positions and five doubles teams at the varsity level, it was obviously impossible to find consistent playing time for everyone, but Black was adamant about his original decree.
"I stood by my word and did not make any cuts," Black said. "I know this was going to be a challenge, but I was up for it!"
As the team begins its final month of competition, the Bulldogs still regularly bring in upwards of 40 athletes to practices. The team features a half dozen players returning from last year's team, but the vast majority of the girls out this season are brand new to the sport.
They aren't the only ones who are new to Woodburn tennis. Black is a recent transplant from California, having come up from Hollywood to live closer to his family and look for local teaching positions in the Willamette Valley. After growing up playing tennis with his father every day, the opportunity to run his own varsity tennis program is what sold him on Woodburn.
"My co-workers, my admin team and the students have all been awesome in welcoming me into the community," Black said. "I couldn't be happier."
Black has big plans for the Woodburn girls tennis program. He wants to harness the energy from the dozens of new players and channel it into a thriving culture on the court in Woodburn. He has no hesitation about proclaiming his aspiration to build the Bulldogs into a state power, though he knows it will take time with both his current players and the tennis players of the future.
"We plan on improving every day and will be the best program in the state once I can get some court time scheduled for the girls in the off season," Black said. "I also plan on starting a Woodburn Club Team that will have teams from elementary school aged girls to High School aged. I am really excited for the future of Woodburn tennis."
This season, the team has performed admirably considering the majority of the athletes are picking up the racket for the first time. The vast reservoir of athletes has created a hierarchy of competition within the program, as the girls are eager to challenge each other and hold on to the four coveted singles positions and five doubles teams on the varsity roster.
"We have healthy competition going on between our first-timers and our returners. All of them are working so hard to try to hold onto the honors of being our varsity singles and doubles players," Black said. "We already have some freshmen making a run for the top singles and doubles spots."
Due to the spring rains that wipe out or postpone a number of competitions in March and April, the majority of the team's improvement will come over the course of the summer. Those players dedicated to coming out and playing every day — just like Black and his father used to do — will become the first members of Black's Woodburn tennis army that he plans on unleashing on the rest of the state in the years to come.
"I am excited about summer and getting these girls who really want to excel in this sport on these courts and playing daily," Black said. "I have a 2-year old daughter who already has her own racket and basket of balls and we will be playing daily, so I expect the same out of my varsity girls."