Men’s and Women’s Tennis head to NCAA nationals

Riley Foreman

Both the Whitman Men and Women’s Tennis Teams seek to turn a winning tradition into a dynasty as they head to the NCAA Division III tournament in Ohio later this month.

The lady Missionaries clinched their fourth consecutive Northwest Conference title in April, while the men earned top honors for the eighth straight year. The men and women, who held perfect 11-0 and 12-0 records in regular season conference play, know that now is not the time to falter. To first-year Hanna Greenberg, her team’s preparation for the national championship started many weeks ago.

“A very strong focus for our team has been having intense match mentality during practice so that we’re ready for those close matches,” she said. “We have been training and conditioning well in hopes to do well at nationals this year and potentially beat some teams that we haven’t in the past.”

One advantage that Whitman will bring to the national tournament is their experience. Senior and past All-American Courtney Lawless qualified for the singles round of 16 last spring, while the team advanced to the second round of regional play, where they were defeated by host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Lawless, who has held an integral role on the team during her Whitman career, notes that the pressure to maintain an elite level of play is present, but it not the sole focus of the season.

Every year we have expected to win conference and make it to nationals,” she said. “The expectation of winning has increased of course, but the priority has always been creating a team that loves to work hard and wants to improve. Although we want to win at nationals, we are all very happy with how the team’s attitude and work ethic has grown over the past four years. I think all of the seniors would agree that we are leaving the team in good hands.”

On the men’s side of the court, senior and three-time NWC Player of the Year Colton Malesovas will lead the team as they try to top their 2014 finish in the third round. Malesovas also appeared in the national doubles championship, losing to a second-ranked Washington University. Although his former doubles partner and standout athlete Andrew LaCava graduated last spring, Malesovas is a strong contender yet again with fellow senior James Rivers. First-years Zach Hewlin and Chase Friedman also help round out a very strong squad that hopes to make its mark at nationals.

Five Whitties from the team were recently named to the NWC All-Conference team, which included two first-team honors for the men. Joining them on the women’s side are Lawless and junior Jenna Dobrin, and two more who were recognized with second-team honors. The tennis programs were also awarded with a pair of Coach of the Year titles for Head Men’s Tennis Coach Jeff Northam and Head Women’s Tennis Coach John Hein.

“John has really fostered an environment that encourages big energy and support for each other,” said Dobrin. “I think of him as always encouraging us to empower one another every time we step on the court sets him apart, and the team camaraderie that’s been created as a result will be a huge advantage at nationals.”

Going into the tournament, both teams carry high expectations with hopes to cement their legacies. The women and men currently boast number three and five ranking in the West Region, respectively, and are eager to face some of the country’s top programs.

“Our goals for nationals are to obviously win as many rounds as possible,” said Greenberg. “Additionally, a major goal is to beat some top-20 teams that have given us trouble in the past, especially if we end up going to regionals in the West.”

Echoing her sentiments is Malesovas.

“Our goal at nationals is first to make the Elite 8,” he added. “We believe that we are good enough to win a national championship, and the first step in doing so is to survive and advance through the first two rounds.  We think we are the team that will break through and achieve this.”

The NCAA Division-III National Championship will be held May 18-23 in Mason, Ohio.