Men’s tennis sweeps ITAs


Zach Hewlin (left) and Phillip Locklear (right) play doubles in the tournment this past weekend. Photo by Chloe Alley-Sarnack.

Alden Glass

Two weekends ago, the Whitman men’s tennis team opened their fall play by hosting the ITA Northwest Regional. With all their Northwest Conference opponents in attendance, Whitman demonstrated their ambition and ability by sweeping the tournament.

Doubles team Phillip Locklear and Zach Hewlin won against first seed George Fox, and then Locklear and Hewlin played one another in a tightly-contested final singles draw in which Hewlin emerged as the winner. The sweep of this tournament is made even more difficult by the draining nature of the ITA. Coach Jeff Northam discussed the brutality of the ITA tournament.

“The tournament has all the teams in the conference come together and play in one big draw. Anybody can win at any level,” Northam said. “It’s a pretty brutal three-day tournament with a lot of matches. If you make the finals of both singles and doubles, that’s 11 matches in three days. I thought we prepared well, and the guys did great. It was a good event for us, very good.”

Not only do the athletes have to play a high volume of games, but also teammates often must compete against one another. Hewlin believes this is one of the hardest things to do in collegiate tennis.

“It’s pretty unique to play as an individual in college. When you spend the weekend competing on your own, it’s also more fatiguing than playing as part of a team,” Hewlin said. “And then you have the added strain of playing against teammates … [which is] the most draining part of the process.”

Locklear had similar thoughts about having to play against teammates.

“The singles were good for me because I didn’t have to play a teammate until the finals, whereas some other people had to play teammates during [earlier matches]. It’s always nice to have teammates supporting you, which they can’t really do if you are playing another teammate” Locklear said.

The feat of winning both singles and doubles is even more impressive considering the turnover in the team since last spring. Coach Northam discussed how the team has changed and reacted to that change and the central role the sophomore class has to play.

“We lost two amazing leaders in our seniors last year, and we only have two seniors this year, so it’s a pretty young class. [First-year] Nishaant Limaye ended up going to the finals in the back draw and that was nice to see,” he said. “It was nice to see some of the guys step up, and it was the show of the sophomores with Zach winning, Chase [Friedman] making it a long way, and Gary [Ho] and Adam Rapoport showing well. It was the sophomore show more than anything else.”

While a youthful team can be challenged due to lack of experience, Whitman believes their talents and abilities are enough to go places this season. Coach Northam believes that young core of players will drive the team’s success this season.

“We’re still a pretty young team, I think that will be our strength and our weakness. The guys are enthusiastic, they know we can compete with the best teams in the nation,” said Northam. “Last year we played awfully close with some of the top ten teams in the nation. We know we’re at that level.”

After last year’s close 5-4 loss in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament, the team’s main goal is to make the next step and reach the Elite Eight. When asked about his personal goals for the team and himself, Locklear answered quickly and assertively.

“We want to make the Elite Eight. We were so close last year. My individual goal is to do whatever I can to have the team accomplish that goal,” Locklear said.

Hewlin matched his teammate’s enthusiasm and optimism about the team’s chances.

“As a team we could easily be top five in the nation. It’s just a question of winning the big matches on the road. We have a number of matches against top 20 opponents but not a single one is here. So it’s a question of traveling well and preparing well. I think we can go undefeated,” Hewlin said.

With a strong air of confidence throughout the team and the performances over the weekend providing evidence that the confidence is not misplaced, Whitman may just make their goals come true and make that next jump to the Elite Eight and beyond.