Suited Court Queens

Feore, McMillan give Golden Bears potential doubles dominance

  • Sports   Thursday, June 9, 2022   Matt Harris

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 Bruins’ men’s 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 you’re 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?

It’s a simple answer. Meg Feore and Ava McMillan have come to personify the traits that Wooden identified, and they’ve used those traits to propel themselves to provincial attention on the tennis court.

Feore, a Grade 11 student, and McMillan, who’s only in Grade 10, have been the brightest stars for the Stratford District Secondary School’s 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.

Don’t bother going back to double check what you just read – it’s correct. First time partners.

That’s not to say they haven’t teamed up before, but the Golden Bears’ golden girls were still impressive in their first season repping SDSS.

“We’ve played together at the Stratford Tennis Club for about five years, but this was our first year together playing for the high school,” Feore said. “We paired up because we found there weren’t 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 – we suited each other really well.”

Watching the pair play increasingly high-level matches, you’d have a hard time believing that McMillan is the only chill one out there, but Feore swears that’s the case. She hints that she’s the more competitive one, and that McMillan helps level her out when necessary.

For those of you keeping score with Wooden’s 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 London’s 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 McMillan’s eyes.

“Going into the Huron-Perth champs, and even going in to WOSSAA, we weren’t stressing out about stuff because honestly not a lot of teams worried us,” she said in a manner that came off more as a bland statement rather than bragging. “Once we got a look at teams, we saw we could play with them and that lowered the stress levels. Meg is very competitive but she’s 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 doesn’t get upset; we just move on to the next point and figure it out.”

With a friendship off the court that comes first, both Feore and McMillan laude each other’s skills – something their coach, Stephen Fischer, echoes the words the girls had for each other: they’re well suited to playing alongside each other.

“Meg is fearless at the end and she moves around up there much more comfortably than one might expect from someone so young,” he said. “Ava has great power on the baseline – she loves to pass players down the line and she’s good at it. Having Meg attach from the net with Ava launching bombs from the baseline makes for an effective team.”

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.

“I’m not sure because both of them are pretty polished,” he said. “Sometimes the player at the net looks more graceful because they are volleying rather than hitting with brute force. They’re competitive and hungry, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. I think it’s a pretty good balance.”

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?

“This is an exciting question because I don’t believe they’ve been really tested yet,” Fischer said. “They will be (at OFSAA), so I have to wonder, ‘will they rise to the occasion’? They both indicated after WOSSAA that they did not play their best tennis because no one has pushed them yet – they have another gear, and I think we’re going to see that in Toronto.”

Asked whether they believe they’ve met their own expectations this season, McMillan took a beat before answering.

“We didn’t know how it would go this year, either at Huron-Perth or at WOSSAA, and we don’t have any expectations going to OFSAA either,” she said. “We plan on trying our best to compete with the best tennis players in the province, but we’ll also learn from this and apply it next year. Hopefully we’ll get back to OFSAA.”

Feore nodded as her partner spoke, but her own thoughts on the matter took things one step further. She accepted the scope of what they’ve accomplished to this point, but said there are still bigger goals on the horizon to chase down like a drop shot.

“Going to Toronto, we both know it’s bigger but it doesn’t change how we’re looking at it,” she said. “We 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 it’s going to be fun trying.”

For a first year team, making it to provincials is impressive – 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 couldn’t 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 – skill – needs another look. As Fischer points out, the upward arc may only just be starting.

“They are still growing and maturing physically, so it’s difficult to say how much but there is upside for them,” he said.