WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- As the Whitman College women's tennis team gets ready to open its season later this week, coach Jayne McCarthy isn't boasting about having the best player in the Northwest Conference on her roster.
In juniors Amy Fong and Leslie Whitten, however, McCarthy knows that she has two of the best, a luxury not enjoyed by many teams in the 10-school conference.
"I don't think too many schools have the one-two punch that we have in Amy and Leslie," she said. "Both of them are playing very well right now. They are mature juniors who know how to win."
McCarthy wasn't yet certain which of the two players would start the season playing at No. 1 singles, and it's always possible the two could flip-flop between No. 1 and No. 2 singles during the course of the season.
"They are two very different players," McCarthy said.
"Amy hits the ball harder and is a little more aggressive. She can serve people right off the court. She is serving very well for this early in the season, and if your serve holds, it's a huge confidence builder for the rest of your game.
"Leslie is a very consistent player, and she's starting to hit the ball harder," McCarthy added. "Her strongest point is her mental toughness. She stays in every point. That's how she wins."
Whitten and Fong save their most formidable play for doubles. The twosome have been the conference doubles champions in each of their first two years.
"As doubles partners, they are tough and gaining in confidence," McCarthy said. "They are attacking the net to a much greater extent than I've seen before. They are much more comfortable at the net, which is a step you need to take to elevate your game."
McCarthy's singles line-up, after Whitten and Fong in the top two spots, will include sophomores Joanna Cutler at No. 3 and Alexis Kramer at No. 4. Monica Hilmer, a freshman, will fill the No. 5 spot, while junior Anna Beattie and freshman Selima Serna are possibles for No. 6 singles.
Cutler and Kramer are probable partners for No. 2 doubles, while one possibility for No. 3 doubles has Hilmer and Beattie joining forces. Rounding out the roster, McCarthy said, are two more skilled freshmen Sarah McKinstry and Tamiko Shiery.
The Missionaries open the season this weekend with three Northwest Conference matches on the road. The toughest of the three matches will take place Saturday at 2 p.m. at Pacific Lutheran University, after Whitman has already played Seattle University Friday afternoon and the University of Puget Sound Saturday morning.
Northwest Conference schools located in the state of Washington will play each other twice during the season. As one of those schools, Whitman has just one playing date slated with the Oregon schools in the conference.
This year's conference tournament, set for late April in Seattle, will follow a team format. Each of the ten schools will be seeded according to their overall season results and placed in two single-elimination brackets. The No. 1 seeded school, for example, will play the No. 8 seed. Two schools will advance through the brackets and ultimately play for the conference title.
"It would be naive of me to say we're going to win the conference title," McCarthy said. "But I think we have a good chance. For the most part, we have seasoned players who have good strokes and good technique. It just depends on how healthy we stay, our mental toughness and how well we come together as a team."
Dave Holden, Whitman Sports Information, (509) 527-5902
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