NWC change could make Whitman tennis national condender

Andrew Hawkins

In the last three years, the men’s tennis team has won three Northwest Conference (NWC) titles and is on an active streak of 71  consecutive conference wins. Currently they are ranked 19 in the NCAA Division III. This team includes three All-Americans, the 22nd highest recruiting class of division III colleges nationally in 2010 and inspiring Coach Jeff Northam.

Conor Holton-Burke '12 en route to a victory in the No. 1 singles match over Linfield's senior Mark Magdaong last Saturday, February 26th. Credit: Ethan Parrish

In the past three years, however, Whitman has not made it past the first round of the NCAA division III championship tournament, losing to the number one seed each time. This begs the larger question of why Whitman cannot make the jump from conference champions to national competitors?

This year the NWC will require only 12 conference fixtures instead of 16. In a regular season a tennis team will play 20 in total. This structural change will leave the men’s tennis team more games and more chances to play high caliber opponents and get the experience they need to become champions.

There is no doubt that Whitman has the best team in the Northwest Conference this year. After five conference games versus Pacific University, George Fox, Willamette, Lewis & Clark and Linfield, Whitman has beaten their opponents 8-1, 9-0, 9-0, 9-0, and 9-0. In short, Whitman has dropped one match in their last 36.

“The coaching is incredible,” said senior captain and two time All-American Etienne Moshevich.  “Jeff [Northam] used to coach with Greg Patton [coach at Boist State] who is arguably one of the best college coaches of all time when they took Boise State to second in the nation. He’s extremely good at firing up our team. He keeps us together. Tennis is an individual sport and he makes us play as a team. He’s the best coach I ever had.”

“Coach Jeff is easily the best coach I’ve ever had,” said junior and All-American Conor Holton-Burke. “It has to be a tough job to handle 12 very different college-age guys, but he manages to do that and create a culture where we all genuinely care about each other… we’ve almost locked up the regular season conference championship, and one of our primary goals is to win the conference tournament [which will likely be held on the courts next to Ankeny].”

However, the players need to step up in order to use these four extra out-of-conference fixtures to become national competitors.

“Over spring break, we’re playing six  nationally ranked teams, so that will be the barometer for where we are this season,” said Holton-Burke. “As a team, we feel really good about how we’re playing, and we think that we could surprise some people this year.”

With the fixture change in the NWC the players will now have to show their prowess when they play over spring break. Even so, the current men’s team is arguably the best since their 71 wins in conference streak began.

“[Andrew La] Cava is a two-time All-American already after one semester,” said sophomore and doubles player Matt Tesmond. “It is extremely difficult to do–it rarely happens in a career much less a season. Nasko [Atanasov]  is a big hitter from Bulgaria, Quin Miller is an excellent partner, Steven Roston … has a lot of potential for good things in the future. Will Huskey has all started at six-seed singles versus Linfield and won the match.”

If the team can put up a strong showing over spring break they can become national competitors.

“I want to win it,” said Etienne Moshevich. “I want to be number one in the NCAA.”

Ultimately, the revamping of the NWC seems to work in Whitman’s favor. The strong recruiting, coaching and present talent have kept Whitman consistent. Perhaps this season they can make the transition from Conference Champs to National Champions.