Women’s tennis falls to Whitworth in hotly-contested re-match

Bailey Arango

The Whitworth University women’s tennis team remained undefeated and on track to repeat as Northwest Conference champions Sunday, March 28, as the visiting Pirates defeated Whitman for the second time this season.

Whitworth, now 12-0 in conference play and 14-3 overall, handed the Missionaries a 7-2 loss, winning two out of three doubles matches and five out of six singles matches.

Whitworth gained an early advantage in doubles play, as Whitman’s number three duo, first-year Kate Kunkel-Patterson and sophomore Emily Rolston, saw an early lead slip away and lost the day’s first decision, 8-5.

The Missionaries surged back, riding a strong showing by senior doubles partners Divneet Kaur and Hadley DeBree in the number two match-up to even the score at 1-1, but a Whitworth victory in a backbreaking, back-and-forth loss to Whitworth’s primary doubles-team gave the Pirates a lead they would not relinquish. The Missionaries’ Head Coach John Hein saw Whitworth’s success in doubles play as a turning point.

“Losing two out of three doubles matches really put us in a tough spot,” Hein said. “With Whitworth’s singles play as deep as it is, we really had to beat them in doubles to have a shot.”

Despite a bottom-line that pointed to Whitman as a clear loser, each of Whitworth’s victories came in close fashion, a sentiment Hein was quick to echo.

“The final score for this one was really misleading,” said Hein. “In most of our matches today, one point one way or another could have changed the whole outcome.”

Whitman’s contest with Whitworth marked a return to conference play after a spring break trip to California, during which the Missionaries went 2-3. Despite Whitman’s losing record during the trip, junior Elise Otto saw the California campaign as a very positive experience.

“We didn’t win all our matches,” Otto said. “But we played really well against nationally ranked teams, and even though we lost a few, we were right there the whole time.”

Whitman’s losses included defeats at the hands of number 16 Bowdoin College and number 17 Redlands University.

Whitman entered their rematch with Whitworth with high hopes following an extremely close 5-4 loss in Spokane, Wash. in February. Despite a substantially larger Whitworth margin of victory Sunday, optimism abounded from the Whitman corner. Coach Hein spoke glowingly of a Whitman team filled with young talent.

“Whitworth was undefeated coming into today, and they’re still the team to beat, but I see a lot of growth from our team even from when we played up in Spokane,” said Hein. “Especially from Kate Kunkel-Patterson at the number six singles spot. Seeing her fight out there to force a tie-breaker was a huge step for us.”

Otto, clearly disappointed despite her own dominant straight-set singles victory, still saw Whitman’s performance Sunday in an overwhelmingly positive light.

“I’m from Spokane, and Whitworth is more or less my lifelong menace; beating them at tennis has a very special place in my goals and dreams,” said Otto. “Still, this year our team has consistently competed hard at every spot, and the Sunday match was definitely no exception. Even if Whitworth won by a larger margin, we are a better team than we were a year ago or even a few weeks ago. I’m disappointed to lose, but there are much bigger and better things to be excited about with this team.”

Otto also had praise to heap onto the team’s youth movement.

“I am particularly impressed with the first-years on the team,” Otto said. “Kate Kunkel-Patterson and Dena Wessel are incredible workers and have such a strong presence on the court, and Alyssa Roberg competes like a lion after a water buffalo.”

The Missionaries will be counting on their young talent this weekend as they travel to Oregon to face Pacific University and Linfield College in a battle for second place in the Northwest Conference.