Tennis competes at Fall Nationals

Tristan Gavin

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Last weekend, five Whitman tennis players flew out to Mobile, Ala., to participate in the USA/ITA National Championships. Whitman has had great success in the small-college division of the tournament over the years, and the players they sent last weekend were no exception.

All five players Whitman sent qualified for Nationals after winning their respective USA/ITA Regional tournaments Sept. 22-24, followed by winning play-in matches in Texas a week ago.

Sophomore Courtney Lawless and senior Alyssa Roberg represented the women’s team in the tournament. The weekend marked Roberg’s third trip to the tournament in four years of tennis at the collegiate level. While Roberg admitted that “having to win a play-in match with the Texas region to get into the main draw at nationals puts extra pressure on [the] players,” she and her doubles partner Lawless placed fourth in the tournament after losing a heartbreaking tiebreaker to Washington and Lee University’s top pair (4-6, 6-4, 10-8) in the semifinals and again to Williams College in the third-place game (6-2, 6-1). Roberg and Lawless made it to the semifinals by dominating their opponents from Carleton College (6-1, 6-3).

The fourth place finish marks the best in recent years for the women’s team, whose top doubles pair has finished eighth and sixth in 2010 and 2011, respectively, at the USA/ITA Nationals. Even though the finish was an improvement upon recent years, both players expected to do better and take the losses as motivation going forward into the regular season in the spring.

“That wasn’t our best doubles play,” said Roberg, who hopes––along with the rest of her teammates––to improve upon last year’s second place Northwest Conference standings.

The tournament served to give the pair an idea of where they stand against premier competition but, according to Roberg, was also “an incredible learning experience” that they hope to build upon. Roberg and Lawless, who were ranked tenth in the nation entering the tournament, will join a Whitman women’s team that advanced to the national tournament last spring despite not placing first in the NWC.

On the men’s side, three Missionaries took the courts in Mobile. Junior Andrew La Cava and sophomore James Rivers tore through the doubles competition en route to a second place finish, which is the highest national finish of any team under men’s head coach Jeff Northam. According to Northam, the pair went “toe to toe with four of the top doubles teams in the nation.” They defeated Emory University (6-1, 6-1) and Johns Hopkins University (6-3, 5-7, 10-7) Thursday before falling to Williams (7-6, 6-3) in the championship match on Friday.

In the singles tournament, sophomore Colton Malesovas started out strong against Trinity University’s Aaron Skinner. Unfortunately, Malesovas’ first match of the weekend would be his last at Nationals, as he was unable to maintain at 3-0 lead in the first set and ultimately fell 6-3, 6-4.

La Cava and Rivers’ success in the tournament reflects the strength of a program that has won five straight conference championships. The pair return with Malesovas to a Whitman men’s team ranked 14th in the nation and poised to make a strong push for a sixth straight NWC title in the spring.