Assistant brings hometown swagger back to the Gophers

Whitney Taney went undefeated in her six years at Edina High School.

Gophers assistant womens tennis coach Whitney Taney cheers on her players Friday, April 19, 2013, at the Baseline Tennis Center. Taney, who went 166-0 during her career at Edina High School, was promoted to assistant coach this season.

Emily Dunker

Gophers assistant women’s tennis coach Whitney Taney cheers on her players Friday, April 19, 2013, at the Baseline Tennis Center. Taney, who went 166-0 during her career at Edina High School, was promoted to assistant coach this season.

by Dane Mizutani

Whitney Taney is arguably the most dominant women’s tennis player to ever walk the halls at Edina High School. She ended her high school career six years ago with a 166-0 record, one that might never be matched.

Then she took her talents to the University of Michigan, where she holds the record for the most career doubles wins.

Now, in her first year as an assistant coach at Minnesota, she’s trying to help turn around a struggling Gophers women’s tennis program.

Taney was promoted to be a full-time assistant before the 2012-13 season after spending one year as a volunteer assistant.

“I’m focused on helping build this program,” she said. “I’m glad to be back in Minnesota.”

Taney has been hooked on tennis since she first picked up a racquet at age 6.

“I always played other sports growing up, but tennis was the sport I really loved,” she said, “and I knew I wanted to excel
in it.”

She met that goal because of support from her father, Ted Taney.

“He has been with me every step of the way,” Whitney Taney said. “I am the person I am today because of him.”

Ted Taney played tennis for the Gophers in the mid-1970s. He said he knew his daughter was a special player when she was about 10.

“She had a passion,” he said. “She always wanted to get better and took every step to get better. I knew back then that she truly wanted to be good at it.”

Whitney Taney said she and her father played tennis every night after her practices. She said tennis was consuming at times, but she knew she had to commit to it to succeed.

“I’ve had people always come up to me and say, ‘How were you able to work with your daughter?’” Ted Taney said. “That was never a problem for us.

“I don’t think we’ve ever even played a set,” he added. “I was there to try to get her better and help her reach her goals. It was never about us competing against each other.”

Whitney Taney’s commitment paid off when she got to high school. She downplayed her 166-match winning streak but said she “never took it for granted” and tried to approach every match the same way.

But her father said it was a huge deal at the time.

“It was more difficult for her as it continued because expectations were always so high,” he said. “I was just concerned whether she was still having fun with the sport.”

Her dominance on the tennis court attracted colleges from all over, but Taney said she wanted to stay in the Midwest. She took a handful of unofficial college visits her junior year before picking Michigan, one of the top teams in the Big Ten.

“I love Minnesota,” she said. “I lived 15 minutes away, but at that time it was about going out and trying something new. It kind of made me grow up, being in a different state.”

Though her father graduated from Minnesota, Taney said he fully supported her choice to go to Michigan.

“I told her nothing is forever,” Ted Taney said. “I told her the option was always there to come back to Minnesota, so she knew that.”

Taney contributed right away at Michigan and found her niche as a doubles player.

She held a 114-34 doubles record in her four years at Michigan and finished 35-4 in the Big Ten.

“She just knew the doubles court so well,” Wolverines head coach Ronni Bernstein said. “She wasn’t a huge server or a person that came forward super aggressive. She just put the ball in the right spot.”

Taney also played in the middle of the Wolverines’ singles lineup and posted an 89-35 career record. She was named All-Big Ten her freshman, junior and senior seasons and was elected captain her final two years with the team.

“She was definitely somebody our players could count on in her time,” Bernstein said. “She just did the right thing on and off the court. She walked the walk, and that’s what set her apart from the rest.”

Taney said she enjoyed her four years at Michigan, but she called herself a “Minnesota girl” at heart.

And she proved it when she returned home after college in 2011. She chose to coach at Minnesota despite opportunities to continue her playing career.

“I just loved coaching tennis,” she said. “I saw my coaches do it and shadowed them, and I fell in love with it.”

Taney coaches with energy and can relate to the players on the team because of her youth.

“We really hit a home run with Whitney,” head women’s coach Chuck Merzbacher said. “I’ve coached for 23 years, and she is one of the best assistants I’ve ever had.”