Whitman tennis paves way to nationals

Pamela London

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Whitman tennis is going to Nationals.

Playing at home on the sun-drenched Whitman courts surrounded by dozens of enthusiastic Whitties, the Whitman men’s tennis team capped off its year of dominance with a 5-0 win over George Fox University in the Northwest Conference tournament final.

Not to be left out, the Whitman women’s team also came home with the NWC tournament title in hand after defeating top-seeded Linfield 5-1.

Credit: Halley McCormick

The Whitman men had already run the table in the NWC regular season, going undefeated and earning the top seed heading into the Conference tournament. After dispatching fourth-seeded Whitworth on Saturday in the semi-final, Whitman faced off against George Fox with the title on the line.

From the top of the lineup, the George Fox Bruins proved they were not going to go down easily. The Bruins tested the Whitman pairs at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles, with the home side pulling out hard-fought victories in each match. While their teammates were battling it out in the first two slots of doubles, junior Sam Sadeghi and first-year James Rivers notched the first team point for Whitman with an 8-1 victory at No. 3 doubles.

“After beating George Fox twice in the regular season, I felt pretty confident going into the match,” said Sadeghi. “At the same time, I was extremely nervous, knowing how much was at stake.”

Senior Conor Holton-Burke capped off his Whitman home career with a flourish: Holton-Burke teamed with junior Matt Tesmond for an 8-5 win at No. 1 doubles and then clinched the team victory for Whitman with a 6-2, 6-0 victory at No. 3 singles.

“All of our hard work during the regular season really paid off,” said Holton-Burke, who earned All-NWC First Team honors leading up to the conference tournament. “After playing five nationally ranked teams, we were better prepared to cope with the pressure of the final. Practically, our regular season also paid off because we were the No. 1 seed, got to play on our home courts and had a much easier semifinal match.”

Two more All-NWC First Teamers, junior Jeff Tolman and sophomore Andrew La Cava, teamed for an 8-5 victory at No. 1 doubles. First-year James Rivers earned All-NWC Second Team honors and head coach Jeff Northam was named Coach of the Year.

Credit: Halley McCormick

Whitman extended its regular season winning streak over NWC foes to 90 consecutive victories, its last loss coming in April 2006. Holton-Burke and Tolman reached 100 individual victories each this season, and senior Emily Rolston is closing in on the same milestone. The team’s storybook season finishes off with a 12-0 NWC record and a 21-4 overall record heading into the NCAA DIII Championship Tournament.

And this year, the tennis story does not end with the men.

The Whitman women’s tennis team entered Championship weekend as the second seed, and, after taking care of business against Whitworth University in the semi-final, pulled the upset in the final by also beating top-seeded-and undefeated-Linfield College.

Playing on Linfield’s home court, the women jumped out to a quick lead by winning two of the first three doubles matches and then finishing off the victory with three straight victories in singles to take the team title. Fittingly, Rolston clinched the match for Whitman with a 6-1, 6-3 win at No. 6 singles.

Credit: Halley McCormick

“[Rolston] has worked so hard for this for four years, and for her to clinch the match was amazing,” said women’s head coach John Hein, who led Whitman to its first conference tournament championship for the first time in his four seasons at the helm.

Rolston and her teammates were able to execute their game plan near to perfection against the Wildcats: the team knew it had to focus on the doubles matches at the top, said Hein, and that if Whitman could jump out to an early lead, they had a stronger singles lineup than Linfield.

“The biggest thing for the finals was doubles for us,” said junior and NWC Player of the Year Alyssa Roberg. “[T]he last two times we’ve played Linfield they have won all three doubles, so we wanted to come out huge with lots of energy and jump on top from the start. From there, we were able to carry that energy and focus into singles.”

Roberg and first-year standout Courtney Lawless pulled out a hard-fought 8-6 victory at No. 1 doubles. Both women were named to the All-NWC First Team, along with first-year Morgan Lawless.

The Whit women finished its season at 10-2 in the NWC and 17-4 overall, with its two most important victories coming in the Conference tournament.

Between the two teams, Whitman earned 10 NWC Player of the Week awards in addition to its two Players of the Year and seven student-athletes named to All-Conference teams.

Both the men’s and women’s teams now turn their attention to preparing for the NCAA DIII Championship Tournament. Seedings, pairings and locations will be announced May 7; the tournament will be held May 21-26 in Cary, N.C. +

Credit: Halley McCormick

 

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