By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Jeannie Tallent has to be a jack of all trades as a tennis coach. Sometimes she's like a psychiatrist. Other times she has to be a friend, a motivator, a mother. Throughout the season she did all of it well in leading Warren County's girls tennis team to its best season in school history.
Whether it was her pep talks or just being even-keeled, she helped guide the Wildcats all the way to the 3A East Regional semifinals.
"She is like a second mother," Warren County senior Madison Ferst said of Tallent. "She is so caring for our team and so supportive, and she really betters everyone. She takes individual focus as well as entire team focus and definitely acts like a momma and is very nurturing to us.
"She's definitely a calming personality to have around. She keeps you focused on the game, whether it's like the team matches, or just seeing her on the sidelines. She definitely boosts and motivates me to do better, as well as the team."
The success of Warren County's team helped make Tallent The Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Girls Tennis Coach of the Year.
This was Tallent's seventh season as girls tennis coach, and after losing a few players to graduation she said she wasn't sure what to expect of this year's squad.
The Wildcats had four starters back from last year's squad, but all the players were pretty even skill-wise, which made the challenge matches for the different spots all the more important.
"They had to jockey for those positions with each other, and I knew as females sometimes that's a tough thing to do," Tallent said. "When we first did those seedings tears flowed early on, and we had to have conversations of we're doing this to make ourselves better. You're going to have to push each other. You can't just stop because they're your friend or not your friend. You've got to challenge them. You've got to push. I think that was a learning experience for a lot of them this year."
Tallent said she thinks that made the team stronger. Another thing that may have helped was playing against Bull Run District power George Mason. The Mustangs beat Warren County 9-0 on March 31. It was a tough loss, but when the two teams met again on May 12, the Wildcats only lost 7-2.
It showed the team was improving, and Tallent said that's when she realized that her team could do something special in the postseason.
"I'm just watching them and to see the growth, we went 0-9 against them and we got our tails kicked early on the season. And this time we had games on them. We went to deuce on them. We actually aced them," Tallent said. "The girls were feeling confident. They knew that they could fight through it. 'Hey, if we could do this against that good of a team, then we know that we're that good.'"
The Wildcats won the Conferece 28 tournament, knocking off Loudoun Valley, 5-1. Warren County No. 2 Lauren Woodrell pulled out a three-and-a-half-hour win to seal the team victory, and Tallent said it was one of the most memorable matches of the season.
"Watching Woodrell when we finally finished to win the conference championship was definitely a nail-biting experience, but the fact that we were able to do it was impressive," Tallent said. "I think winning the conference title meant a lot to all of us as a team."
The Wildcats didn't stop there as they pulled out a 5-4 win over Kettle Run, a team they had lost to six straight times. In the regional semifinals, the Wildcats ran to a very powerful and talented Lafayette squad.
Tallent said making it that far was a great experience for the players and for the program as a whole.
"[Lafayette] played a much more aggressive game than we were used to," Tallent said. "We learned from it. The younger ones got to see what it's like to be that far, and they have a lot to look up to. It was an experience for me as well, because I had never been that far."
Tallent said she played tennis in high school, and when she came here with her husband, football coach Tony Tallent, the job was open so she decided to take it.
She said that she enjoys coaching and seeing the players learn.
"Just the sheer pleasure of watching them learn something new and to excel," Tallent said. "It doesn't matter what the sport is. To see them do something new that they couldn't do even five minutes before or to enhance a skill and for them to have that pleasure, [that's the best part]."
The Wildcats will lose four seniors from this year's team, but they had several younger players, including a few freshmen, who will have the opportunity to keep the program going strong.
Tallent said the key to success in her seven years of coaching has been having the right players there.
"I love seeing them play the game because they want to play, not because they're made to be there," Tallent said. "And you can tell the difference in a player who wants to be there and who puts their heart into it. You can see it, no matter what the sport is. And I've had the privilege for seven years to have a lot of girls who want to be there and love the sport. It's been fun."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd