Whit Men's Tennis Team Gets Early Jump on NWC Title Defense
News Release Date:
Monday, January 2, 2012
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- The Whitman College men's tennis team gets an early jump next week on pursuit of its fifth straight conference championship.
While the rest of the Northwest continues its shiver through the dead of winter, coach Jeff Northam and 11 of his players are ticketed for a week (Jan. 7-14) of training and matches in Hawaii.
"The NCAA exemption allows us to take a trip before the next semester starts, and we're taking advantage of that," Northam says.
"This will be the earliest we've started our spring season in my time at Whitman," he adds. "It's a great opportunity for a good week of training before classes get started again."
Matches slated thus far pit Whitman against two NCAA Division II teams, Hawaii-Pacific and BYU-Hawaii. Northam also hopes to schedule at least one more match.
"This trip is a testament to the great alumni support our program receives," Northam says. "That support makes a huge difference in keeping these trips affordable and providing a great experience for our student athletes.
"One of our freshmen (James Rivers) is from Hawaii, and his family is also giving us a place to stay for the week."
Sam Sadeghi, a junior, is the only player unable to make the trip. He plans to spend the week studying for his Medical School Admission Test (MCAT).
NWC Title Defense Begins Feb. 12
Whitman, which has won an astounding 78 consecutive NWC regular season matches dating back to April of 2006, opens the 2012 conference season when George Fox comes to Walla Walla for the five-team Whitman Shootout Feb. 10-12.
| Holton-Burke: NWC Player of Year
Before playing George Fox in the weekend finale at 2 p.m. that Sunday, Whitman faces Lewis-Clark State, UC-Santa Cruz and the University of Montana in a string of tough non-conference matches.
Both Lewis-Clark State (NAIA) and UC-Santa Cruz (NCAA DIII) are perennial national powers, Northam notes, and NCAA DI Montana will probably be the "best team on the courts that weekend."
Whitman resumes NWC action Feb. 24-25 when it hosts Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound. The remainder of 12 conference dates are sprinkled throughout March and April.
The team sitting atop the NWC standings in mid-April wins the conference title, but the league's automatic berth to the NCAA DIII national championship tournament will be decided April 21-22 in a four-team post-season tournament. Whitman has made five straight appearances in the national championship field.
This spring's NWC regular-season champ hosts the conference playoffs and is matched against the No. 4 seed in a Saturday semifinal. The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds play the other semifinal. Winners of the two matches play that Sunday for a ticket to nationals.
Willamette, which lost to Whitman in the NWC finals the past two years, is one of the teams Northam says are the most likely to challenge his team's recent reign of supremacy.
As a whole, however, the talent level in the conference continues to broaden and deepen, Northam says. "Last year it was really nip and tuck down the stretch to see which programs were going to make the conference tournament.
"We've had a great run, and I think we have enough returning talent to be seen as the favorite, he adds. "But we try hard not to look past any of the teams we're going to be playing."
Senior Duo Top Balanced Roster
While he lost three top-notch players (Etienne Moshevich, Chris Bailey, Quin Miller) to graduation last spring, Northam counts his blessing in that "we have two seniors in Conor Holton-Burke and Adriel Borshansky who are unbelievably talented leaders.
"We have a great mix of players in all four classes, but it helps tremendously to have strong leaders in the senior class. Both Conor and Adriel do a lot in terms of keeping everyone focused and working hard to get better."
Holton-Burke, who emerged last spring to play at the top of Whitman's singles and doubles line-ups, was named NWC Player of the Year at the close of the conference season. The 6-foot-2 right-hander posted conference records of 9-0 at No. 1 singles and 9-1 at No. 1 doubles.
"It's not possible for me to put into words what Conor has meant to our program over the past four years," Northam says. "The time and effort he invested in improving his game is unsurpassed.
"His teammates look at what he's accomplished, and it motivates them to work just as hard."
Holton-Burke begins the spring season with a No. 32 national ranking in singles.
Borshanksy, a 5-foot-5 sparkplug, was 12-2 in singles overall last spring (6-0 NWC), playing in spots three through six. He also made it into three matches in doubles, winning all three.
"Adriel had wins last season against some of the top-ranked programs in the nation," Northam says. "In fact, he seems to battle his way to big wins every season.
"Bottomline, Adriel is a great competitor. Maybe we should call him Mr Clutch because he comes through when the team needs it the most."
Junior Class: Talented Trio
Jeff Tolman, Sam Sadeghi and Matt Tesmond give Whitman three battle-tested players in the junior class.
"That's a very strong group of juniors," Northam says. "I see all three of them playing big matches this spring, singles and doubles."
Tolman posted a 7-1 NWC singles record last spring and teamed with Moshevich for a 16-4 record overall in doubles.
"Jeff is a super talent, and he's is another player with a knack of getting big wins against some of the best teams we've played," Northam says.
Northam likens Sadeghi to Holton-Burke in that he has "matured a great deal since his freshman year, and not just on the court.
"Sam was such a quiet kid when he first came to Whitman, and now he's president of the Whitman Investment Company and a senator in the student government.
"It's just as rewarding for coaches to see growth in our students outside their sport -- maybe more so," Northam adds. "But there's no question that Sam is very, very competitive on the court. He's not going to beat himself. You'll have to beat him yourself."
Last spring as a sophomore, Sadeghi saw most of his court time in singles, notching records of 10-3 overall and 8-0 against NWC foes. He was 3-1 doubles.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-2 Tesmond saw most of his court time last spring in doubles, posting an 8-2 record (mostly with Miller) in conference matches.
"Matt has great reach and is dominant at the net, and if you ask him, he probably sees doubles as the strongest part of his game," Northam says. "But Matt has had some great wins in singles as well."
Tesmond, who was 4-1 in singles last spring, beat the No. 5 seed in a third-set tie-breaker in last fall's regional tournament.
"That was good for Matt to see that he can also be a force in singles," Northam says. "He's one of the guys with the ability to play in our top six in singles."
Standout Paces Sophomores
With standout Andrew La Cava leading the way, Whitman has plenty of talent in its sophomore class.
La Cava won the singles title at last fall's regional tournament, keeping the crown he captured a year earlier as a freshman.
The crafty all-court player held his own at last fall's national championship event, going 2-2 against regional champs from elsewhere in the country. One of his wins was a 6-1, 6-3 triumph over the nation's fourth-ranked player.
"Andrew is a great competitor and phenomenal athlete who is super quick on court," Northam says. "He plays the game with a lot of tools in his toolbox.
"Last year Andrew tried to work his way to the net as quickly and as often as possible. What we both learned is that he can have just as much success by staying back and using his athletic ability. He can shift very quickly from a neutral game to an offensive attack."
La Cava's success at nationals earned him a No. 7 national ranking as he heads into the spring season.
La Cava played most of his first spring season at No. 2 singles, going 14-6 overall and 9-0 in NWC matches. Playing mostly with Holton-Burke in the No. 1 slot, he posted similar records (14-8, 9-1 NWC) in doubles.
Californian's Steven Roston and Will Huskey, along with Bulgarian Atanas "Nasko" Atanasov, are also back for their second seasons. Junior transfer Dylan Bodet will also play as a sophomore in what will be his first spring season at Whitman.
"Steven, Will and Nasko all played well in last fall's regional tournament," Northam says. "It was good to see how much they have improved compared to their freshman years."
Roston, who rolled to a straight-set victory over the No. 4 singles seed at the fall tourney, made it into five singles matches last spring, winning four times.
The 6-foot-4 Huskey, who worked his way to a three-set victory over the No. 7 seed last fall, was a perfect 4-0 in limited singles action last spring.
Atanasov, who won twice in singles as a freshman, lost to a seeded player in the opening round of the fall tournament but then work his way through the consolation bracket to play in the finals.
Bodet, who hails from San Antonio, Texas, played his first college season at the University of Idaho before transferring to Whitman last fall. Coming off wrist surgery last fall, Bodet lost to a seeded player in three sets in the second round of last fall's tournament.
"Dylan is a talented player but I haven't had the chance to watch him play much in person," Northam says. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do this spring."
Rookies Round Out Roster
Freshmen Colton Malesovas (Austin, Texas) and James Rivers (Honolulu, Hawaii) add more punch to the Whitman roster.
"I couldn't be more excited to have James and Colton on the roster," Northam says. "Both guys have tons of experience. Both have played and done well at national tournaments."
Malesovas beat two seeded players before losing 6-4, 6-4 to La Cava in the quarterfinals of last fall's regional tournament. Rivers also knocked off a pair of seeded opponents, including the No. 3, before dropping a 6-4, 6-3 decision to Tolman in the quarterfinals.
Paired with different partners in doubles at the fall tournament, both Rivers and Malesovas advanced to the semifinals before losing.
"I was tickled to death watching the two freshmen play in the fall tournament," Northam says. "It's going to be a blast having them in the program."
Spring Schedule: Travel, Talent
After starting its season in Hawaii, Whitman will juggle its pursuit of a fifth straight NWC title with more travel and additional chances to battle other national-caliber NCAA DIII programs.
Whitman, ranked No. 29 nationally and No. 7 in the West Region, gets its first crack at one of the top DIII programs when UC-Santa Cruz takes part in the Whitman Shootout in early February. The Banana Slugs begin the season No. 2 in the West Region and No. 6 at the national level.
Whitman heads east to Fredericksburg, Va., on Feb. 18-19 to play three top programs, including No. 22 Mary Washington and No. 23 Rhodes. The third opponent that weekend is Kalamazoo, which has also had a great deal of national success in recent decades.
In March, a Spring Break trip to California will include a neutral-court match against No. 19 Trinity (Connecticut).
"Counting the NAIA and NCAA Division I and II teams we're playing, this is without a doubt the toughest schedule we've ever played," Northam says. "The only way to get better is to have the stress of having to play at a high level."
"The amount of traveling we're going to do this spring is also fairly unique," he notes. "With last fall's trip to the national tournament in Alabama, and our trips to Hawaii and Virginia, we're going to hit almost every time zone in the nation.
"I can think of no other NCAA Division III team in the country that will be traveling as much as we will. It's going to be a great spring season for Whitman."
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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; firstname.lastname@example.org