La Cava, Rivers Fall in ITA National Fina
James Rivers, So.
Mobile, Ala.- With Whitman tennis players playing for a national championship for the first time in three decades, Andrew La Cava (Jr., Bellevue, WA) and James Rivers (So., Honolulu, HI) went toe to toe with defending champion Trey Meyer and partner Matt Micheli of Williams for two hours on Friday night before finally falling 7-6 (6), 6-3.
With the men's and women's doubles finals from DIII, DII, JuCo, and NAIA all being played under the lights at the Copeland Cox Tennis Center in Mobile, AL, the Whitman tandem started off playing as if they were used to the center stage. After starting the match with five straight holds, Rivers unleashed a "monster return" to give Whitman a 4-2 cushion in the first set. The experience Purple Cows took advantage of a couple unforced errors in the next game, however, and the match was soon knotted back up at 4 games apiece. From there, Whitman dug out a couple tenacious holds to send the first set to a tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker, Williams won the first two points to take a 2-0 lead, but La Cava and Rivers won four of the next five points to take a 4-3 lead. From there, the seesaw flipped back towards Williams, as they won the next two points to take a 5-4 lead, but Whitman responded with two huge returns points to earn a set point at 6-5. Unfortunately, Whitman missed a volley by "an inch" to swing the pendulum back towards Williams for a final time. After the changeover, Williams strung together two great points to win the set 7-6.
The key to the set, Coach Northam claimed, was the Williams service game: "I was really impressed with how well the Williams guys served. They were both bombing serves that kept Java (James and La Cava) off balance. That being said, (James and Andrew) really had opportunities in the first set."
Andrew La Cava, Jr.
The match was far from over, however. Williams held the first game of the second set, and earned four break points on La Cava's service game in the second, but the indefatigable Whits fought out of that hole to tie the set at 1-1. The two teams held three more times to make it 3-2 Williams before a big Micheli return gave the Purple Cows a 4-2 lead. The Whitman tandem made one last charge at a comeback in the next game, holding two break points to get the mach back on serve, but Meyer displayed his championship experience in a hold, and Williams eventually won the match and the tournament 7-6, 6-3.
After the match, Head Coach Jeff Northam had nothing but praise for his national runners-up, "I'm so proud of James and Andrew. They went toe to toe with four of the top doubles teams in the nation. In the finals, they ran into a very good team that played at an incredibly high level. Great effort. I'm incredibly proud of them."
The 2nd place finish is the best for any Whitman player or team in a national tournament in Coach Northam's tenure. The tournament is the last of the men's tennis team's abbreviated fall season, and Rivers and La Cava will now return to campus to prepare for the team season in the spring. The Whitman men's tennis team is currently ranked #14 in the nation and is coming off its 5th consecutive conference championship.