Anyone of a certain age is very familiar with who John Wooden was and what he meant to the game of college basketball. He pulled the strings of the UCLA Bruinsâ menâs basketball dynasty for nearly four decades, winning 10 national titles along the way.
Among the reasons Wooden stands out among his peers is a philosophy he became associated with: the pyramid of success. Decades of observation went into listing 25 common behaviours of successful people: friendship, skill, poise, cooperation and patience among them.
And now youâre asking yourself this question: what does this have to do with two high school tennis players who likely have never been mentioned in the same breath as the Wizard of Westwood before?
Itâs a simple answer. Meg Feore and Ava McMillan have come to personify the traits that Wooden identified, and theyâve used those traits to propel themselves to provincial attention on the tennis court.
Feore, a Grade 11 student, and McMillan, whoâs only in Grade 10, have been the brightest stars for the Stratford District Secondary Schoolâs team this season. The duo captured the Huron-Perth championship in early May before sweeping to the WOSSAA title a week later. Their work together between the lines sent them to the OFSAA championships in Toronto, capping an amazing season that saw them partner up at the high school level for the first time.
Donât bother going back to double check what you just read â itâs correct. First time partners.
Thatâs not to say they havenât teamed up before, but the Golden Bearsâ golden girls were still impressive in their first season repping SDSS.
âWeâve played together at the Stratford Tennis Club for about five years, but this was our first year together playing for the high school,â Feore said. âWe paired up because we found there werenât a lot of girls our age playing in town, but once we started playing together we found that it was more than just a matter of convenience â we suited each other really well.â
Watching the pair play increasingly high-level matches, youâd have a hard time believing that McMillan is the only chill one out there, but Feore swears thatâs the case. She hints that sheâs the more competitive one, and that McMillan helps level her out when necessary.
For those of you keeping score with Woodenâs pyramid, that ticks off the following traits: cooperation, enthusiasm, team spirit and poise. That they recognize individual characteristics in each other speaks to more maturity than they show in a passing glance.
Something to consider: during their WOSSAA semi-final meeting with a duo from Londonâs A.B. Lucas Secondary School, the London champions. While the Vikings duo had several feisty or less-then-supportive things to say to each other, Feore and McMillan just took care of what they had to in a matter-of-fact manner. The supportive part of their partnership is a big plus in McMillanâs eyes.
âGoing into the Huron-Perth champs, and even going in to WOSSAA, we werenât stressing out about stuff because honestly not a lot of teams worried us,â she said in a manner that came off more as a bland statement rather than bragging. âOnce we got a look at teams, we saw we could play with them and that lowered the stress levels. Meg is very competitive but sheâs a lot of fun for me to play with. We can laugh off anything on the court, and you need to be able to have fun out there even if you lose. If I mess up, she doesnât get upset; we just move on to the next point and figure it out.â
With a friendship off the court that comes first, both Feore and McMillan laude each otherâs skills â something their coach, Stephen Fischer, echoes the words the girls had for each other: theyâre well suited to playing alongside each other.
âMeg is fearless at the end and she moves around up there much more comfortably than one might expect from someone so young,â he said. âAva has great power on the baseline â she loves to pass players down the line and sheâs good at it. Having Meg attach from the net with Ava launching bombs from the baseline makes for an effective team.â
Fischer credits the fact that both girls have played and practiced lots since they were young kids, but also says they each have a desire to win and continuing to improve themselves. Asked if he knew which one of the duo was more laid back, the coach just shrugged when he answered.
âIâm not sure because both of them are pretty polished,â he said. âSometimes the player at the net looks more graceful because they are volleying rather than hitting with brute force. Theyâre competitive and hungry, but they donât take themselves too seriously. I think itâs a pretty good balance.â
Building blocks continue to stack up
With a pair of gold medals already around their necks and a trip to provincials capping off their first season together, Fischer was asked to ponder something that could be interesting for the rest of their competition locally and beyond: is what Feore and McMillan have done this season a precursor to bigger things to come?
âThis is an exciting question because I donât believe theyâve been really tested yet,â Fischer said. âThey will be (at OFSAA), so I have to wonder, âwill they rise to the occasionâ? They both indicated after WOSSAA that they did not play their best tennis because no one has pushed them yet â they have another gear, and I think weâre going to see that in Toronto.â
Asked whether they believe theyâve met their own expectations this season, McMillan took a beat before answering.
âWe didnât know how it would go this year, either at Huron-Perth or at WOSSAA, and we donât have any expectations going to OFSAA either,â she said. âWe plan on trying our best to compete with the best tennis players in the province, but weâll also learn from this and apply it next year. Hopefully weâll get back to OFSAA.â
Feore nodded as her partner spoke, but her own thoughts on the matter took things one step further. She accepted the scope of what theyâve accomplished to this point, but said there are still bigger goals on the horizon to chase down like a drop shot.
âGoing to Toronto, we both know itâs bigger but it doesnât change how weâre looking at it,â she said. âWe want to get back to this point next year and see how we can improve on it. We have no idea if we can win, but itâs going to be fun trying.â
For a first year team, making it to provincials is impressive â bringing home a silver is even more so. Feore and McMillan made it to the OFSAA finals, dropping an 8-2 decision to Havergal College of Toronto. Wooden couldnât help but be impressed with the application of his pyramid here. Add confidence and competitive greatness to the list of traits already discussed. And one we have already visited â skill â needs another look. As Fischer points out, the upward arc may only just be starting.
âThey are still growing and maturing physically, so itâs difficult to say how much but there is upside for them,â he said.