WALLA WALLA, Wash.— Based on its win-loss record and strength of schedule, the Whitman College men's tennis team has received an at-large berth to the NCAA Division III National Championships.
A total of 41 teams begin regional play this Friday at eight sites around the country. Whitman, 23-7 on the season and ranked No. 12 nationally, heads to Greencastle, Ind., as the No. 2 seed in a five-team regional hosted by Depauw University.
Whitman plays Saturday at 2 p.m. (EDT) in a second-round match against Michigan's Albion College, the regional's No. 3 seed. The Britons are 16-6 on the season.
DePauw, ranked No. 8 nationally and 20-4 on the season, is the No. 1 seed in the regional. The competition gets underway Friday when Transylvania University (15-4), the fourth seed, plays fifth-seeded Westminster College (10-7) in the first round for the right to play DePauw in Saturday's second round. The regional's title match is set for Sunday. The winner advances to the May 15 quarterfinals in St. Louis, Mo., where Washington University is hosting the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals over three consecutive days.
Pacific Lutheran University, 16-9 on the season, received an automatic berth to the national tournament after upsetting Whitman in the finals of the Northwest Conference championship tournament. Pacific Lutheran is the No. 3 seed in a regional hosted by the University of California-Santa Cruz (16-5), the nation's top-ranked team. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (25-6), which holds a No. 2 national ranking, is the second seed in the regional and plays Pacific Lutheran in Saturday's second round.
Santa Cruz plays Saturday against the winner of Friday's first-round match between fourth-seeded Redlands (12-14) and fifth-seeded Hardin-Simmons (17-6).
The tournament field includes 25 teams from conferences with automatic qualifiers. In addition, nine teams were chosen from a group of independent schools or from conferences without automatic qualifiers. Whitman was one of seven teams chosen on at-large basis.
See below for a post-season look at Whitman and the other teams in the Greencastle regional:
With an influx of talented freshmen swelling its roster to 16 players, Whitman rolled through its best season in two decades. Head coach Jeff Northam and assistant Brad Changstrom split the team into two groups several times during the season to play multiple matches on the same day — sometimes in different cities.
In addition to their unblemished 16-0 NWC regular season record, the Missionaries made a successful Spring Break swing through California, winning five of seven matches. Big wins that week included 5-4 decisions over both No. 16 Redlands and No. 18 Kalamazoo, two teams ahead of Whitman in the national rankings at that time. The Missionaries also posted a 6-3 victory over No. 29 Cal Lutheran.
In other matches against nationally-ranked foes this season, Whitman lost 6-3 to No. 1 UC-Santa Cruz and fell 7-2 to both No. 9 Washington University (St. Louis) and No. 10 Bowdoin.
Late in April, arch-rival Pacific Lutheran shook off a pair of earlier losses to Whitman to beat the Missionaries 6-3 in the NWC title match. But Whitman senior Phalkun Mam was named NWC Player of the Year and three of his teammates also earned all-conference honors. Seniors Steven Ly and Robbie Munday joined Mam on the first team, and freshman Matt Solomon was named to the second team.
Mam, Solomon and freshman Nadeem Kassam got off to a strong start last fall, winning the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Northwest Region singles and doubles titles. Mam then made a strong showing in singles at the ITA's Small College Championships, placing fifth in the NCAA Div. III bracket. As the Northwest representatives in doubles, Solomon and Kassam just missed the national tournament, losing a play-in match to a duo that later advanced to the championship match.
As the spring season played out, Mam rose as high as No. 4 in the national singles rankings, and the Missionaries as a team climbed to No. 12 in the national rankings. Mam also set a new Whitman school record for career victories, soaring past the 150 mark in total wins in singles and doubles. Munday stands at No. 3 in total victories, just two wins out of second place. Ly is now fourth on the career victory list.
Whitman made its last appearance in the NCAA post-season in the spring of 2004, when Ly, Mam and Munday were freshmen. With a total of five freshmen playing in singles, Whitman lost in the first round to Trinity University.
Due to the NCAA's final travel restrictions, Whitman will take either eight weekend's regional competition. The Missionary contingent, in addition to Mam, Ly, Munday and Solomon, includes first-year sophomore Christoph Fuchs, sophomore Justin Hayashi and freshmen Jake Cappel and Dan Wilson.