Men’s tennis overcome Bearcats, earn fifth straight ticket to NCAA DIII Nationals
Monday, Apr 18, 2011
WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Overcoming a determined Willamette effort in singles, the Whitman College men's tennis team continued its Northwest Conference domination with a 5-0 victory over the Bearcats in Sunday's finals of the conference playoffs.
Whitman, now 16-6 on the season (12-0 NWC), advances to the NCAA Division III national championship tournament for a fifth consecutive year.
Playing outdoors on its home courts, and backed by a big bunch of enthusiastic student fans, Whitman jumped to an early 3-0 lead with a quick sweep of the opening round of doubles.
"Willamette is a very good team, and we know they play their best tennis in singles, so it was important for us to get off to a good start in doubles," Whitman coach Jeff Northam said.
"Our guys were really focused and intense, and with great support from our fans, we played really well in doubles, which helped set the tone for the rest of the match."
Willamette, which saw its season end with a 13-7 record, did indeed counterpunch a bit in singles, grabbing some momentum of its own as the first four flights of singles got underway.
Willamette sophomore Michael Baumgartner bolted to early leads of 3-0 and 4-1 over Whitman freshman Andrew La Cava at No. 2 singles.
But La Cava rallied to within 5-4 and then won three straight games for a 7-5 first-set victory.
Conor Holton-Burke catches jumping Etienne Moshevich during post-match celebration.
Photo top of page: Jeff Tolman's victory yell announces clinching fifth team point.
Photos by Greg Lehman
Meanwhile, Willamette senior Matthew Houser bounced back from early 4-1 and 5-2 deficits at No. 4 singles to catch Whitman sophomore Jeff Tolman at 5-5.
Like La Cava, Tolman closed out the first set on a roll, winning his first set 7-5.
In other singles matches, Whitman senior Etienne Moshevich was the first player to pocket his first set, outscoring Willamette junior Cody Ferguson 6-2 in the No. 2 slot.
The first set at No. 1 singles was the most protracted affair, but Whitman junior Conor Holton-Burke eventually outlasted Willamette sophomore Joshua Wong by a 6-3 count.
La Cava stayed on the offensive at No. 2 singles, racing to a 4-1 lead in his second set before finishing off a 7-5, 6-2 victory. That gave Whitman a 4-0 lead in the team scoring, just one point shy of the five needed to clinch.
The clinching honors fell a few minutes later to Tolman, who had also spurted to a 4-1 advantage in his second set at No. 4 singles. After Houser again rallied, closing to within 5-4, Tolman took the next two games to win 7-5, 6-4.
Tolman's victory, which gave Whitman an insurmountable 5-0 lead, set off a wild on-court celebration by the home team.
The in-progress matches at No. 1 singles, where Holton-Burke led Wong 6-3, 2-3, and at No. 3, where Moshevich led Ferguson 6-2, 5-3, were left unfinished.
Matches at No. 5 and No. 6 singles had not started and were needed to determine the team outcome.
Whitman assumed immediate command in the early bouts in doubles.
Senior Quin Miller and sophomore Matt Tesmond were the first to finish, rolling to an 8-1 victory over Willamette's Garrett Vincent and Cameron Thompson at No. 3 doubles.
Next off the court in doubles were Moshevich and Tolman at No. 2, where they cruised to an 8-2 win over Ferguson and Wong.
Holton-Burke and La Cava got the win at No. 1 doubles, downing Houser and Baumgartner 8-3.
Jeff Tolman and coach Jeff Northam celebrate
"All of our guys played so well today," Northam said. "We got down early in a few singles matches but then battled back when the chips were down.
"I've praised this team all season. The guys work so hard, and it seems like they've learned a lot about competing the past few years.
"It's easy to get fired up when you're the underdog," he said. "It's not so easy when you're the front-runner and expected to win, which has been the case with our team in recent years.
"Our guys have learned to guard against that. They were ready to go from the start today, and they competed hard until the end."
Moshevich, as vocal and boisterous as ever on the court, worked to keep Whitman energy levels high, but he got plenty of help from a big crowd of students and fans that included Dr. George Ball, a devoted supporter of Whitman tennis for the past half-century.
"ET (Moshevich) is our lion on the court, and his spirit and will to win are off the charts," Northam said. "We expect that from ET, but all of our guys were amazed by the student and fan support today.
"This was a special moment for our guys. Playing in front of such a big crowd was something they enjoyed tremendously. We've never played before such a big crowd anywhere we've ever played."
Whitman, which has won the last four NWC titles, is ranked No. 22 nationally and No. 7 in the West Region. Willamette is No. 11 in the regional rankings.
First-round matches in the NCAA DIII national tournament are slated for May 14, and Northam doesn't expect to learn his team's first-round assignment until three or four days prior to that date.
Holton-Burke and La Cava plan to compete in California's Ojai Valley tennis tournament at the end of April, and Whitman still has a non-conference dual match slated for May 7 against Lewis-Clark State.
The Whitman women's basketball team was courtside Sunday, showing support for men's tennis.
A crowd of Whitman students was at the tennis courts Sunday, rooting Whitman to victory.
Contact: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director