WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- The NCAA Division III men's tennis selection committee was anything but kind to Whitman College in making its regional bracket assignments for the national championship tournament.
Whitman, 22-9 on the season and ranked No. 20 nationally, was placed in a four-team regional hosted by Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Claremont, Calif.), which holds a No. 2 national ranking. The other two teams are top-ranked and defending national champion University of California-Santa Cruz and No. 9 Redlands.
Whitman and 23-7 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) face one another at 10 a.m. Saturday. UC-Santa Cruz (13-5) and Redlands (20-7) then play later in the day. The winners do battle at noon Sunday for the right to advance to the eight-team national finals May 13-15 at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.
A total of 41 teams begin national tournament play this Friday and Saturday at eight regional sites around the country. The regional hosted by CMS in Claremont, Calif., is by far the toughest of the eight regional brackets, Whitman coach Jeff Northam says.
"We've got three top 10 teams in the same bracket," Northam says. "This is a brutal draw for any of the four teams. What it also means is that at least one of the two top-ranked teams in the country has no chance of advancing beyond the regional."
Whitman earned an automatic berth in the post-season tournament by virtue of winning the Northwest Conference championships earlier this month. "It would be a major upset for us to make it through the regional, but we are playing well, and we're ready to play this weekend," Northam says. "There have been a bunch of upsets in men's Division III tennis this month, and there's no reason why there can't be more."
Because of NCAA Div. III post-season travel restrictions, placement of UC-Santa Cruz, CMS and Redlands in the same geographic regional was expected, Northam says. But the selection committee had a choice of where it was sending Whitman and No. 25 University of Texas-Tyler. Whitman has a higher national ranking and beat Texas-Tyler earlier this season, but the Patriots were placed in the less competitive regional and given a No. 2 seed in that draw.
Texas-Tyler, 17-6 on the season, is one of five teams in the regional hosted by No. 6 Gustavus Adolphus (Saint Peter, Minn.). The other teams in that regional are No. 30 Wisconsin-Whitewater and two unranked teams, Luther and Carthage.
A year ago, Whitman was sent to a regional hosted by DePauw University. Whitman beat Albion College in its first match and then lost to DePauw in the regional final.Tennis matches this weekend at the CMS regional are slated for the Marks and Smith Tennis Courts on the Claremont McKenna campus.
CMS recently claimed its third consecutive Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SCIAC) title with an 8-1 victory over Redlands. Earlier in the season, CMS slipped past Redlands by a 5-4 count.
UC-Santa Cruz, an NCAA DIII independent, has won two of the last three national crowns. The Banana Slugs recently dropped a close 5-4 decision to CMS, but they have a 6-2 record overall this spring against nationally ranked teams.
One of the Santa Cruz victories was an 8-1 win at Whitman in early February. While the final score was not close, a number of matches in singles and doubles were very close. Whitman's Daniel Solomon and Chris Bailey, for example, lost in singles in three-set tie-breakers. Whitman also lost two doubles matches by scores of 8-5 and 8-6.
Whitman also played at Redlands earlier this season, falling 7-2 during a Spring Break match. Again, the competition was closer than the final score indicates. Whitman's Matt Solomon won 7-6, 7-5 at No. 1 singles, but two of his teammates lost in singles by scores of 7-6, 7-5 and 7-5, 7-5. Whitman also lost 8-6 at No. 3 doubles.
Whitman's last meeting with CMS was a 6-1 Spring Break loss in March of 2006.