Young Men's Netters Endure Growing Pains in Season-Opening Loss
Lewiston, Id.– The Whitman men's tennis team opened their season Friday with a 3-6 loss that was equal parts frustrating and promising. With all-conference performer James Rivers (Honolulu, HI) out with a shoulder injury, and three-time all-American Andrew La Cava (Bellevue, WA) nursing a sore back, the Missionaries were forced to play the nationally-ranked LCSC Warriors of NAIA with just one returning singles starter in the lineup.
Despite his aching back, La Cava teamed with senior Sam Sadeghi (Burbank, CA) at the #1 doubles position. He and Sadeghi served their way to a 5-5 deadlock with the Warriors' top duo of Anders Tischer and Jeff Lowndes before finally getting a break to take a 6-5 lead. Two games later, La Cava served for the match, but LCSC responded with a break, and went on to win in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (4). Unfortunately, that was just the first of many missed opportunities for the Whits.
At the #3 doubles position, breakout sophomore Colton Malesovas (Austin, TX) and junior Steven Roston (Hillsborough, CA) recovered from an early break to take a late 7-6 lead over LCSC's Sam Tozer and Quentin Wacquez. In that game, a series of thundering returns earned the Missionaries a pair of match points, but Wacquez erased them with a couple big serves. The two teams battled their way to a tiebreaker where the Warriors edged the Whits 7-5.
Whitman salvaged a team point at #2 doubles where junior transfer Andy Riggs (Auburn, CA) and senior doubles all-American Matt Tesmond (Cincinatti, OH) parlayed an early break into an 8-6 victory. It could have been another heartbreak for Whitamn, but Riggs staved off a couple break points while serving at 7-6 to give his team the win.
Taking a 1-2 deficit into singles competition, Whitman threw a quartet of players into uncharted territory. Despite the inexperience, it soon became clear the four singles matches would be wars of attrition typical to the cross-divisional rivalry. The newly anointed ITA regional singles champ Malesovas stepped into the top slot. Playing an experienced senior in Tischer, Malesovas surrendered an early break, but managed to break back with Tischer serving at 5-4. Unfortunately, the LCSC senior responded immediately, and won the next two games to win the set 7-5. Tischer broke again early in the second, but Malesovas reeled off four straight games to take a 5-2 lead in the second. The young Texan couldn't maintain his level, however, and Tischer scored a 5-game streak of his own to win the match 7-5, 7-5. That was the shortest of the four singles matches.
At #3 singles, Roston moved into the top half of the singles lineup for the first time where he met Lincoln Gay. Gay's crafty playing style unhinged Roston early, and the Warrior senior cruised to a 6-3 first set win. Gay seemed to be on his way to an easy victory when he earned an early break in the second, but Roston found his passing shots and broke twice for a 6-3 second set victory. The final stanza saw the momentum shift dramatically several times. Coming off the second set victory, Roston broke and held for a 2-0 lead. Gay turned it on from there and won five straight games to get to 5-2. Roston responded with a 3-game streak of his own, and even got to love-40 in Gay's ensuing service game. Once again, the Warrior prevailed in crunch time, as LCSC's senior won eight consecutive points to complete a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win.
That win brought the Warriors to the brink of victory with a 4-1 lead, but the Missionaries were still fighting at #2 and 4. At #2 singles, senior Sam Sadeghi squared off with the Australian Sam Tozer. In the first set, the two competitors battled for an hour with neither Sam earning any separation. At 6-6, the set went to a tiebreaker, where Tozer prevailed 7-4. The second was much like the first. The Sams traded breaks until Tozer served for the match at 5-4. Sadeghi managed to save two match points and break to knot the set at 5, but Tozer picked off the last two to win the match 7-6 (3), 7-5, thus clinching the team match for the Warriors.
In the last of the four singles matches, first year Noah Lee (Forestville, CA) traded breaks all throughout the first set, with Whitman's freshman serving for the set twice at 5-4 and 6-5. Lee held a set point in the penultimate game, but LCSC's Quentin Wacquez came back and dominated the ensuing tiebreaker to win the first. The second set was very similar, as neither competitor held service for the first nine games. Lee served for the second set, but Wacquez broke and held for a 6-5 lead of his own. Lee managed to save a match point in the next game, but Wacquez pounced on Lee in the tiebreaker and finished off a 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4) win.
With Whitman trailing 1-6, junior Will Huskey (Auburn, CA) finally got Whitman on the singles scoreboard. Playing another senior in Jeff Lowndes, Huskey dominated the first set 6-1. The second set was a topsy-turvy affair, but, trailing 4-5, Huskey played some of his best tennis of the day for three games on his way to a 6-1, 7-5 triumph. Andy Riggs, a transfer from Stevens Tech, picked up another team point at the #5 spot to make the final tally 6-3 for the Warriors. In that match, Riggs recovered from a nightmarish first set to win 0-6, 6-4, 6-2.
As usual, Whitman and LCSC got the most out of their early-season matchup by playing several exhibition matches. Though no match counted in the official team competition, Whitman's considerable depth was on display. Huskey and Lee warmed up for their singles matches with a 9-7 comeback victory at the #4 doubles position. Senior Matt Tesmond exhibited considerable fortitude and charged back from a 2-5 3rd-set deficit to win 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 over Haseeb Khan. First year Alex Noyes (Kent, WA) flashed his potential in a 6-4 6-1 win Andres Bustani. Whitman's sole international player Atanas Atanasov (Haskovo, Bulgaria) picked up a thrilling 3-set win over a former LCSC starter. Finally, junior Dylan Bodet (San Antonio, TX) halted the proceedings with a 6-2, 6-2 victory of his own.
Despite the loss, Head Coach Jeff Northam glowed with praise for his team's performance: "I was very pleased with the effort in tonight's match. Just based on the scores, a few points here and there could've swung the match. It was a joy to see everyone step up into higher positions. It was especially pleasing to see the new players compete hard and play well. Overall, It was a great first match for us this season, and I'm really excited to see what we can do going forward."
Story written by Robert Holton-Burke