By Garrett Mitchell
The Woodruff Lady Wolverine tennis team boasts two pairs of sisters, but their family unit extends far beyond the ties that bind biological relationships.
The ties that bind this group of Wolverines are rooted deep in a culture of togetherness that have seen their ‘Ohana’, meaning family in the native Hawaiian language, post one of the best starts to a season in program history.
It is those two pairs of sisters, Makenna and Chapman Newsome and CoCo and Lily Zheng, that have shown the rest of their teammates the way, however.
Always challenging one another, supporting the others’ efforts, and even engaging in friendly sibling rivalries have unified a team that has started the season 5-0, with three of those victories coming against much larger 5A schools, and a belief that the first state tennis championship in school history is a very real possibility.
“The best part about this team is, we don’t put each other down to make ourselves better,” Head Coach Lea Ann Skinner said. “We lift each other up and by doing that we go higher. You can go higher together than just one person can do. It’s like an iceberg under the water holding the top ones up. The (players) who are further down the ladder, they keep pushing and pushing and making the other ones better. It’s an atmosphere that works for us.”
It is an atmosphere that starts with the literal sisters who make up four members of the Lady Wolverines’ roster, and whose sense of togetherness has permeated throughout the entire team.
The Newsome sisters, senior Makenna and seventh grader Chapman, say they love driving each other to succeed.
“It’s been fun (mentoring Chapman),” said Makenna, who starts at number four or five singles for the varsity. “I know we both have different skill sets and different things we have to work on, but I like us being able to help each other out.”
Still, the sibling rivalry persists.
“Who wins and who loses is a big deal,” added Makenna. “I’ve lost a couple of games and she’s won a couple. We just like to see who can win the most.”
Chapman says, though, that the support of her sister and teammates means everything as she begins to establish her young career at Woodruff.
“She really helps me learn how to do everything,” Chapman said of her older sister. “She shows me how to keep score and do all of the points. She’s helping me with my serve and practices with me. There isn’t really any pressure when (Makenna) is here.”
The second set of sisters, sophomore CoCo Zheng and freshman Lily, share a similar bond between them and with their teammates as well.
CoCo said that with only a single year age gap between she and Lily, the competition between them is at times fierce but friendly.
“Our competition is really what drives me,” CoCo said. “It’s what makes me want to play harder. Obviously, my other tennis sisters, they motivate me to work harder as well.”
“Lily, I just can’t let her beat me,” she added with a laugh. “It’s not that cool being the older sister and letting her beat me.”
Lily, a two-way player between the junior varsity and varsity squads this season, says she relies on CoCo and her teammates for guidance and support.
“(CoCo) is the better player right now so she’s my role model,” Lily said. “We encourage each other and anytime we mess up, we pick each other up. We care for one another.”
To watch the Lady Wolverines is to see a whole family unit whose mutual respect, support, and love for one another is as uplifting on a personal level as it is a catalyst for success in competition.
Now, after an appearance in the 3A state semifinals last season, the Woodruff sister act looks to take the next leap of winning a state championship this year.
Skinner added that the family concept of her team did not just coalesce overnight, but rather it is part of a program culture that has been established for years with the fruits of those labors now coming to bear.
“We even have our larger extended family who are our alumni,” she said. “I give them credit too. They left a legacy. A legacy of success. They left a legacy of caring for each other and iron sharpening iron so we could become better as a program. These ladies go for excellence. We say that excellence is in the details and that comes from our athletic directors and administration as well. We feel supported and feel loved and you know, it carries over.