Men’s Tennis completes undefeated NWC regular season

Kendra Winchester

As the 2015 spring season for Whitman Men’s Tennis comes to an end, the Northwest Conference Tournament Championships are right around the corner. After this past weekend’s sweep of PLU, the team finished its regular season undefeated in the conference and ranked number 15 in the Nation with a possible return to nationals. This will be the team’s eighth straight Northwest Conference title, and the team has yet to lose a regular season conference match in nine years.

Phillip Locklear (back) Petar Jivkov (front). Photo by Tywen Kelly.
Phillip Locklear (back) Petar Jivkov (front). Photo by Tywen Kelly.

“We’ve had a really good season so far. Our start of the year was really strong. We had three top-20 teams come here and play and we beat all of them. And we’re still undefeated in conference so we have a lot of things to be happy about. A lot of the guys feel like at this part of the year that they’re playing a lot better even then a month ago, so we’re just about to get over the hump,” said senior Colton Malesovas.

The team has prepared this spring season to mentally and physically understand what it takes not only to become Northwest Conference champions, but also to return to the Division III National Championships.

“We have played a lot of top-10 teams, more than what we’re used to and right now we’re just right on the cusp of taking an extra step in actually beating them. We have had two 4-5 losses over spring break, so we’re just right there. What it comes down to is actually believing,” said senior James Rivers.

This season, there are three seniors, one junior, five sophomores and eight first-years. With such a big class of underclassmen, there is a much greater need for them to consistently score points than there has been in previous seasons. They have certainly stepped up to the challenge.

“We have a lot of people that can play really high-quality tennis right now, so it’s comforting to know that even if I’m not playing in the lineup, then I’ll have a teammate that I know can win. Our team is really deep,” said Rivers.

The depth of the team ranges from senior All Americans such as Malesovas and Rivers to many sophomores and first-years already poised to earn the same honors.

“First-year players Zach Hewlin and Chase Friedman have played well at the number-three and number-four spots this year, which is impressive since it is their first year of college tennis and we play a very demanding schedule,” said Head Men’s Tennis Coach Jeff Northam.

With an already-talented group, fitness has become the main priority for this season. The team had a little trouble playing some top-10 teams over spring break and realized that fitness should be a focal point for the rest of the season.

“We got back and hit it really hard. It is so nice to be in better shape than other teams, especially in tennis where it is such a mental sport. If you know that you have been putting in more work than your opponent, then you just have that little mental edge that can push you to win it,” said Rivers.

That mental edge has carried this senior class consisting of Rivers Malesovas, and Alex Noyes to this point in their last season.

“Three years ago we were a top-30 team and we were very happy to be Northwest Conference Champions and be top 30. And up to now, we have broken into basically a top-15 team, now I think our group wants to be a top-10 or a top-5 and we’re knocking on the door. Now we’re just one good win away from that, but not quite there yet,” said Malesovas.

To make it into the top 10 or top 5, the team must first perform well in the Northwest Conference Championships, hosted here at Whitman, to head to the NCAA Division III tournament.

Well, first things first, we accomplished the first goal of winning the NWC title and hosting the NWC tournament. We need to win the the NWC tournament to advance to the NCAAs so that is all we are thinking of at the moment. We have had several close matches with teams in the conference, so we have our work cut out for us next weekend,” said Northam. 

If the team is able to win the Northwest Conference tournament, they will earn a team bid to nationals. The team will be competing in the NWC semi-finals on Saturday, April 24 followed by finals on Sunday, April 25. The Whitman Women’s Tennis Team will also be hosting the conference tournament and will play on Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24.+