WALLA WALLA, Wash. — With a good start in doubles and a dominating performance in singles, the Whitman College men's tennis team captured its first Northwest Conference title since 2004 with an 8-1 victory over defending champion Pacific Lutheran on a chilly Saturday afternoon at the Yakima (Wash.) Tennis Club.
Up 2-1 after doubles, Whitman swept the six matches in singles, taking five of those decisions in straight sets. Now 22-9 on the season and ranked No. 20 nationally, Whitman gets the NWC's automatic berth in the NCAA Div. III playoffs.
"Unlike yesterday in the semifinals, when we played a little soft and were just trying not to lose, we were playing to win today," Whitman coach Jeff Northam said. "This team is still relatively young with a lot of sophomores and freshmen, and today is the first time this season we played with great intensity from start to finish.
"I’m really proud of the way guys stepped up, especially in singles," Northam added. "Losing just one set in singles is a nice accomplishment."
Matt Solomon, a sophomore who plays No. 1 singles for Whitman, said he and his teammates were ready to play after a relatively lackluster 6-3 victory over Willamette in Friday’s semifinals.
"We came out strong today," Solomon said. "We were aggressive and attacked them right from the start. We did everything we needed to do to win. In one sense, the way we played on Friday was why we played so well today. After losing the championship match to PLU last year, this is a sweet win for us."
Solomon teamed with older brother Daniel Solomon, a junior, for a dominating 8-2 victory at No. 1 doubles at the outset of the championship finale. Junior captain Justin Hayashi and sophomore Justin Follows were just as dominant at No. 3 doubles, winning by the same score.
Pacific Lutheran salvaged a point at No. 2 doubles, where Justin Peterson and Michael Manser started quickly and then held off Whitman sophomores Nadeem Kassam and Jake Cappel for an 8-5 win.
The doubles competition started under mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-40s. In the break between doubles and singles, temperatures dipped and light snow flurries briefly dusted the courts.
The frosty precipitation dissipated in time for the start of singles, and it was immediately apparent that Whitman was just getting warmed up. Led by the Solomon brothers in the top two spots, Whitman bolted to first-set victories in five of the six singles matches.
Freshman Chris Bailey, running his NWC singles record to 13-0, was the first to finish with a 6-1, 6-2 victory at No. 3. Sophomore Dan Wilson was the next guy off the courts, upping his conference singles record to 11-0 with a 6-2, 6-1 win at No. 5.
With its lead in the team scoring at 4-1, Whitman needed just one more win for the match-clinching fifth point. A few minutes after Wilson polished off his opponent, Matt Solomon put Whitman over the top with a 7-5, 6-1 win at No. 1 singles.
Shortly thereafter, Cappel made it 6-1 Whitman with a 6-2, 7-5 win at No. 4 singles. Daniel Solomon, now 9-0 in NWC singles, was the next to finish with a 6-2, 6-4 victory at No. 2 singles.
The final match to finish was at No. 6, where Hayashi rallied for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 triumph.
The Solomons helped set the tone for the match with their 8-2 win at No. 1 doubles. After racing away to a 3-0 lead, and after PLU’s Kevin Floyd and Justin Larimore momentarily closed to within 3-2, the two brothers won the next five games to close out the match.
Hayashi and Follows were just as impressive at No. 3 doubles, winning their last five games for their 8-2 win. The victory extended their doubles record against conference foes to 9-0.
"Playing well in doubles gave us a lot of momentum going into singles," Dan Solomon said. "Winning this title as part of a team with my brother is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in my life. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Whitman's Hayashi Organizes Youth Tennis Clinic in Vancouver, B.C.
Justin Hayashi, one of the players who powered the Whitman men's tennis team to a NWC title, found time earlier this season to organize a youth tennis clinic during the second week of Spring Break.