Men’s tennis launches into spring season

Peter Clark

The Whitman men’s tennis team faced the teeth of a challenging non-Conference schedule when they traveled to the East Coast on Feb. 17 to play No. 23 ranked Rhodes, Kalamazoo, and No. 22 ranked Mary Washington. Overcoming time zone differences, cramps, fatigue and every other injury in the book, the men took all three matches.

Credit: Halley McCormick

After dispatching Rhodes by a score of 6-3 and Kalamazoo 5-4 on Saturday, the team  stepped up to the weekend’s biggest challenge, taking down Mary Washington 6-3 and completing a momentous East Coast road sweep featuring wins over two Top 25 opponents. This incredible feat did not happen by accident. The previous week, before traveling to the East Coast, the team practiced at 6 a.m. every morning in order to simulate the time-zone difference they would experience in Virginia. Coach Jeff Northam made this decision based on research begun last year.

“I had the team sit down with [local sleep doctor and class of 1972  Whitman graduate]  Dr. Simon last year, and we talked about the things we needed to do to play in a different time zone,” said Coach Northam.

The team talked together about early practices and the importance of getting the proper amount of sleep. All in all, Coach Northam couldn’t be happier with the beginning of the season.

“The start of the season has been the best, most magical start since I have been coaching here,” said Coach Northam.

This, from a five-time NWC Coach of the Year who has taken his undefeated team to the top of the NWC for the past four seasons; Whitman’s last Conference loss was in April of 2006.

Credit: Halley McCormick

Holton-Burke pointed out that part of this year’s success can be attributed to the team’s deep roster.

“This year I feel like we are really strong top to bottom. We won at least one match from each of the nine positions over the course of the three matches,”  said Holton-Burke.

Whitman freshmen James Rivers has already felt the effects of the team’s positive  atmosphere.

“Our team dynamics are really, really good right now. When you are all playing at once, and you see your teammates fighting as hard as they can, it makes you play so much better because you don’t want to let your teammates down,” said Rivers.

Although most everyone on campus is aware of the goliath  that men’s tennis has become, there are still doubters across the nation. Many people outside of Whitman don’t have any idea where the school is located, while others are still skeptical on whether or not Whitman is the real deal.

“One national blogger had said we were short on talent and the program was in decline. It certainly has been a rallying cry for the guys,” said Coach Northam.

Those same critics are likely singing a different tune as Whitman has made a convincing statement starting the season with not only the East Coast road sweep, but also the victory against No. 6 UC Santa Cruz just one week before. The next rankings come out early next month, and Whitman will likely have vaulted several spots from their previous No. 29 ranking.

For many teams, this hot start is oftentimes the perfect trap. Teams often grow complacent and begin to think that a good start will carry them the rest of the season. Judging by the experience of the veteran players and the winning culture that has been developing for several years, Whitman seems prime to dodge such a hurdle.

“Yeah, we had a great start to our season, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win conference. We’re a team that knows that we have to keep really focused,” said Holton-Burke.

The men expect to continue their winning streak as they move into conference play during the coming weeks. Over spring break, the team will look to do more damage on the national level as they travel to southern California to play Rochester University (New York), Whittier (California), and Trinity (Connecticut).