Whitman women host USTA/ITF Fall West Regional; men play in Portland

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012

WALLA WALLA — Tennis takes center stage on the Whitman College campus this weekend when the Missionary women entertain their Northwest Conference rivals in the annual USTA/ITF Fall West Regional.

Sixty-four singles players and 32 doubles teams will battle it out Saturday through Monday to determine champions who qualify for the National Small College Championships that will be played Oct. 11-14 in Mobile, Ala.

Tournament play actually begins Friday with three singles matches and one doubles match that will serve as qualifiers that will complete the fields that begin play Saturday morning at 8. Play commences at 9 a.m. Sunday and Monday.

Friday’s matches will be played on Whitman’s outdoor courts. Saturday’s play will be both outside and indoors at the Bratton Center, with some consolation matches scheduled at the Walla Walla Country Club courts. Sunday’s championship bracket matches will be played on the outdoor courts, with consolation matches inside. All of Monday’s matches will be played on the outdoor courts.

While Whitman coach John Hein’s women’s team will be serving as the host team, coach Jeff Northam’s team will travel to the Portland area for an identical tournament with an identical purpose of sending one singles player and one doubles team to the national tournament.

Men’s play will be held at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center and the West Hills Racquet Club.

The Whitman teams have enjoyed loads of success in the Fall West Regional, which is the only scheduled competition during the fall portion of their schedules.

Senior Alyssa Roberg (Santa Cruz High, Scotts Valley, Calif.) is the women’s tournament’s defending singles champion and the No. 1 seed this weekend. Roberg, who lost in a play-in match at last year’s national tournament, went on to earn Northwest Conference Player of the Year awards last spring.

Roberg finished her junior year ranked No. 3 in the west among singles players and 22nd in the country.

Roberg and sophomore Courtney Lawless (St. Stephen’s Episcopal, Austin, Texas) are the defending doubles champions and No. 1 seed this fall. They finished fifth at last year’s fall national tournament and completed the spring season with a No. 10 national ranking in NCAA Division III.

Courtney Lawless earned all-NWC first-team honors as did her sister, sophomore Morgan Lawless, also from Austin, Texas.

Courtney Lawless, who finished fourth in the West and 26th nationally as a freshman, is seeded second in this weekend’s singles play and 26th nationally.

“Alyssa and Courtney traded off playing No. 1 for us in singles last year,” Hein said of his top two players. “They are both very good players.”

Morgan Lawless is seeded No. 5 in singles this weekend. Last year as a freshman she reached as high as 12th in the regional rankings.

“Last year Morgan got as far as the semifinals of this tournament and was defeated by Allysa,” Hein noted.

Whitman freshman Jenna Dobrin of Camarillo, Calif., is seeded in the 9-to-16 bracket as she makes her college debut this weekend.

“She is a great player,” Hein said. “She played both singles and doubles in high school and we are excited to have her.”

Whitman’s other singles entries this weekend are senior Kate Kunkel-Patterson (Davis High, Yakima), senior Kate Rubenstein (Catlin Gable High, Portland, Ore.), sophomore Madison Webster (Chadwick School, Long Beach, Calif.) and sophomore Erin Minuth (Convent of Sacred Heart, San Francisco). Patterson played in Whitman’s top four singles players most of last year and has been in the top six throughout her Missionary career, Hein said.

Two other Missionaries — junior Olivia Bates (Meadowdale High, Edmonds, Wash.) and freshman Katrina Allick (University High, San Francisco) will compete in play-in matches Friday night hopeful of earning a spot among the 64 singles qualifiers.

Along with Roberg and Courtney Lawless, Whitman’s other doubles teams are Dobrin-Morgan Lawless, Patterson-Webster, Allick-Minuth and Bates-Rubenstein.

Most of the doubles partners are new to each other, Hein said, which is not uncommon for this tournament.

“This tournament is a chance to get some experience and get comfortable,” Hein said. “It’s a really fun opportunity to see where we are at and where the conference is at.

“Our No. 1 seeds are playing well and confident,” he added. “But it won’t be an easy tournament. We play a lot of tennis in three days, and it will be interesting to see who is able to play the best that last day and make it through all the matches.”

The Whitman men’s team will be led by junior Andrew La Cava (Seattle Preparatory School, Bellevue, Wash.), who enters tournament play in Portland as the No. 1 seed and was the Northwest Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore. La Cava is a two-time defending champion of the Fall Regional and placed seventh at last year’s fall national tournament.

Andy Riggs, a junior transfer from Auburn, Calif., is Whitman’s No. 2 singles player and will be seeded No. 4 in the tournament.

La Cava and James Rivers (Pacific Buddhist Academy, Honolulu) are seeded No. 2 in doubles this weekend behind Pacific’s top-seeded team.

Whitman’s other singles entries in Portland are seniors Matt Tesmond (Seven Hills Upper School, Cincinnati) and Sam Sadeghi (North Hollywood High, Glendale, Calif.), juniors Steven Roston (Burlingame High, Hillsborough, Calif.) and Will Huskey (Placer High, Auburn, Calif.), sophomores Colton Malesovas (St. Stephen’s Episcopal, Austin, Texas) and Rivers, and freshman Noah Lee (Summerfield Waldorf School, Forestville, Calif.).

Two other freshmen, Alex Noyes (Kentwood High, Covington, Wash.) and Hunter Nelson (Shorewood, Wash.) are entered in Friday night qualifying matches.

In addition to the La Cava-Rivers duo, Whitman’s other doubles teams are Riggs-Tesmond, Malesovas-Sadeghi, Lee-Roston and Huskey-Noyes.

Northam, who is entering his 19th season as Whitman’s men’s head coach and has guided the Missionaries to the last five NWC titles and six consecutive trips in the NCAA Division III National Championships, always looks forward to the Fall Regional.

“What I always look forward to is seeing how our new players compete, and we have three very good ones, four actually, counting our transfer,” Northam said. “And it’s also nice to see where the guys who are not on the top of our roster stack up against the rest of the conference.

“It’s fun to see how they do against the top players in the rest of the conference. It’s their chance to knock on the door of the top players from other teams, something they don’t get the opportunity to do during the NWC season.”

And Northam believes his players are prepared for the weekend.

“They’ve done a lot on their own over the summer,” the coach said. “But we have also had three weeks in which they have trained hard and practiced hard. We’ve had three good weeks of practice to get ready for this tournament.”