Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Northam leads tennis team to new heights

Whitman’s Athletic Department is in the middle of a renaissance of sorts that has seen a number of different sports experience historic success over the last decade. Still, there are dominant programs, and then there is Whitman College tennis, winners of the last nine Northwest Conference championships and owners of an unprecedented regular season Conference winning streak of 114 matches.

That culture of success begins with Head Men’s Tennis Coach Jeff Northam, who began his 17th-consecutive year at the helm of the Whitman tennis program last weekend during the team’s match at the University of Idaho. Northam, who played for Whitman between 1984 and 1988, returned to coach the team in the Spring of 1998. Since then, the direction of the program has never wavered from one of continued success.

“Every year it seems like other teams think that we’re going to have to rebuild, and the last seven or eight years we haven’t really done that once,” said senior Colton Malesovas.

The roadmap to this continued success, according to everyone involved in the program, seems to begin and end with Coach Northam. This team is a cohesive group both on and off the court, and the players attribute that to Northam more than anyone else.

“That’s all the culture that he’s set up because it’s one thing to have one [successful] team, one group of guys that’s cohesive and come together, but he’s been able to create that environment for the past number of years,” said Malesovas.

The creation of this chemistry lies with Northam’s ability to provide the team with group experiences like barbecues, rafting trips, camping and more –– events that Northam calls “crazy, silly things.” There is more to these experiences, however, and they have helped the team grow and accept all new members without skipping a beat.

“It’s fun to have those bonds be solid,” said first-year Zach Hewlin. “Our coach puts the expectation that we will hold each other to a high level of respect and value each other’s time commitment to the team and to ourselves.”

Northam, however, is quick to point out that the conditions provided by the school help the program immensely. New outdoor tennis courts, fewer teaching requirements for coaches and a high level of academics help Northam to snag highly-rated recruiting classes, which are essential to the future of the program. In terms of recruiting, as the program improves so does the caliber of players considering Whitman.

“Many of the kids we have had the option to play in a Division One program, there is just constant work, not a lot of time off,” said Northam about his recruiting practices. “You have to be able to bring in a few players that can have an impact on the program, no doubt about it.”

More people than just his players have noticed Northam’s success. The Whitman program has quickly become the envy of other tennis programs in the Northwest Conference, and to a degree, the other teams at Whitman.

“He’s creative, he has a million and one ideas, and he tries them all,” said Whitman Athletic Director Dean Snider. “If I have new, younger coaches coming in, I tell them to watch what Jeff does to develop a team and build an experience for his students. I’d say if you follow that model, you’d be successful.”

Success, in this sense, is measured by more than just tallies in the win column; it means providing a memorable experience for student-athletes that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“I think I do a good job of creating a real positive experience for the guys. I want their time on the court to be their most enjoyable of the day. I want their experience and their ties to Whitman to be exceptional and fun and powerful,” said Northam.

Northam has become more than a tennis coach to his players. He’s become a mentor, a guide and a friend. Northam described the number of people who reached out to him on his recent birthday as truly touching.

“Literally it was overwhelming. It was one of the most special days of my life to have all these people text me and call me and go out of their way to get a hold of me,” said Northam. “I’m just so lucky to work with the guys I work with and the program and to be at the college I’m at, just so blessed.”

This year, the team will have its own unique set of challenges. It lost five seniors from last year’s team, including its number-one, -three and -four singles players and half the members of its best three doubles pairs. Even with these heavy losses, a strong recruiting class and steady development from the holdovers could make this group the most successful in Coach Northam’s tenure. The team had its first matches this past weekend, falling to Division I University of Idaho and beating NAIA Lewis and Clark State.

The real test will arrive this weekend, when the team hosts University of Texas-Tyler, UC Santa Cruz and University of Redlands. Even with the challenges that come with a large class of first-years, this season could be one for the already-full record books and one that Coach Northam will remember for a long time.

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