WALLA WALLA, Wash. Ė The Whitman College tennis teams will take No. 1 and No. 3 seeds into the Northwest Conference Championships Friday and Saturday at the Yakima (Wash.) Tennis Club.
The menís squad, after surging through one of the best seasons in school history, gets a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed in the menís bracket. Veteran coach Jeff Northam and his 16-man roster ran the table in the NWC, going 16-0 as part of a 22-6 record that has the Missionaries ranked No. 15 nationally in NCAA Div. III.
The womenís team, which also enjoyed a strong season, has the No. 3 seed in its bracket. Seventh-year coach Heidi Tate, who recently announced that sheís leaving the coaching profession to pursue a career in medicine, guided the Missionaries to a 16-6 season that includes a 12-4 mark in conference play. Whitman and Puget Sound tied for second in the final NWC standings, but the Loggers get the No. 2 seed based on a pair of 5-4 victories over the Missionaries during the regular season.
While all nine NWC schools compete in tennis, only the top six menís teams and top six womenís teams advance from the regular season to the championship tournament. The top two teams on each side get first-round byes.
In Fridayís first round, the Whitman women face No. 6 seed Willamette (7-13, 6-10 NWC) in a match that starts at noon. The Missionaries beat the Bearcats twice during the regular season, by scores of 7-2 and 8-1. A third victory will advance Whitman into a 3:30 p.m. semifinal showdown with Puget Sound (13-4, 12-4 NWC).
At 8 a.m. Friday, in the other womenís first round match, No. 4 Pacific Lutheran (13-5, 11-5 NWC) faces No. 5 Whitworth (9-11, 8-8 NWC). The winner plays top-seeded Linfield (16-5, 16-0 NWC) at 3:30 p.m.
With its first-round bye, the Whitman menís team advances directly into one of Fridayís 12:30 p.m. semifinals. The Missionaries await the winner of that morningís opening round battle between No. 4 Puget Sound (9-8, 9-7 NWC) and No. 5 Willamette (9-10, 8-8 NWC).
Whitman had little difficulty with either Puget Sound or Willamette during the regular season. The Missionaries twice blanked Willamette 9-0 and beat Puget Sound by scores of 8-1 and 9-0.
The other opening round match in the menís bracket sends No. 3 Linfield (14-11, 12-4 NWC) against No. 6 Whitworth (6-15, 6-10 NWC). The winner advances to face No. 2 Pacific Lutheran (14-9, 14-2 NWC) in the semifinals.
The men's teams that lose Fridayís opening round matches will play at 3:30 p.m. for fifth and sixth place.
The tournament resumes at 8 a.m. Saturday with the womenís matches for the third/fourth and fifth/sixth places. The menís and womenís championship matches are both slated for noon on Saturday.
Stand-out seniors Phalkun Mam, Steven Ly and Robbie Munday anchor a Whitman men's team that is both strong and deep. The Missionaries split into two groups at several points in the season to play multiple matches on the same day -- sometimes in different cities.
Whitman won its last NWC men's title in the spring of 2004, when Ly, Mam and Munday were freshmen.
Mam, ranked No. 4 nationally in NCAA Div. III, recently became the all-time career leader in tennis victories at Whitman. His win total for singles and doubles stands at 152 heading into this weekend's tournament.
Ly, the reigning NWC Player of the Year, has 134 career victories and ranks fourth on the all-time list. Ly, who played No. 1 singles in each of his first three seasons, is playing No. 2 this spring while Mam plays at No. 1. As Whitman's No. 1 doubles team, Mam and Ly are ranked No. 10 nationally.
With 144 career victories at Whitman, Munday ranks No. 3 on the all-time list. He has played in one of the top three singles spots in his four years at Whitman. He and sophomore Christoph Fuchs have played No. 2 and No. 3 doubles for the Missionaries this season. Munday was named to ESPN The Magazine's Academic All-District Team last spring, and will be nominated again this spring.
Fuchs and talented freshman Matt Solomon have been key fixtures in the bottom half of the singles ladder, although both have played higher in some matches. A number of players are possible candidates for the No. 6 spot in a big match -- everyone from junior Robert Rye to sophomore Justin Hayashi and freshmen Jake Cappel, Dan Wilson, Nadeem Kassam and David Deming.
Seniors Katie Collier, Emily Smith and Maura Flaherty have teamed with sophomore Katie Oost and first-year players Hadley DeBree, Margo Lentz and Divneet Kaur to give the Whitman women's team a mix of experience and youth.
DeBree, ranked No. 17 in the most recent NCAA Div. III regional rankings, has had a solid season at No. 1 singles, compiling a 12-4 record at NWC opponents and twice winning Player of the Week honors. She and Kaur are 12-2 in NWC doubles play this season.
At No. 2 singles, Collier finished with a 6-6 record in conference play. Smith was also dead even in NWC singles play, going 7-7 while filling the No. 3 or No. 4 slots for most of the season.
Flaherty has been superb in singles, playing anywhere from No. 4 to No. 6 and winning 19 of 20 matches on the season. She was 16-0 against conference foes.
Oost also had a strong season in singles. Bouncing from No. 3 to No. 5, she posted a 17-4 mark that included a 13-2 record in NWC play.
As first-year players, Lentz and Kaur enjoyed their share of success. Playing at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, Lentz was 12-4 on the season and 9-4 in conference. Kaur pieced together records of 10-2 and 8-0 at No. 5 and No. 6 singles.
Whitman's last NWC women's title came in 1997, when the championship tournament used a flighted format. The Missionaries shared the championship with Whitworth that season.