WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- With Emory hosting both a men's and women's tennis regional this weekend, Saturday's second-round match between the men of Whitman and NC Wesleyan will take place about five minutes away from the main campus courts (Woodruff PE Center) at the university's Clairmont campus (Student Activity & Academic Center).
As required by national tournament restriction, Whitman coach Jeff Northam has whittled his travel roster down to a nine-player contingent led by seniors Conor Holton-Burke and Adriel Borshansky.
Others making the trip back east are juniors Jeff Tolman, Sam Sadeghi and Matt Tesmond, sophomores Andrew La Cava and Steven Roston, and freshmen James Rivers and Colton Malesovas.
The group departs campus on Thursday for what amounts to a 15-hour travel day.
When they meet at 2 p.m. (EDT) Saturday, Whitman and NC Wesleyan will be squaring off against one another for the first time.
NC Wesleyan, which has won the last four USA South conference titles, sports a distinctively international roster. The Battling Bishops have played much of the season with Rinat Khussainov (Kazakhstan), Robert Kjellberg (Sweden) and Alexey Rumyantsev (Russia) in the top three spots in singles.
Fred Lemongo (Cameroon), Viktor Selander (Sweden) and Artsiom Prostak (Belarus) have frequented the lower half of NC Wesleyan's singles line-up. Others players on the Battling Bishops roster hail from England, Denmark, Brazil and South Africa.
Clifton Lesak, a junior from Littleton, N.C., and the lone American on the roster, is 2-1 on the season at No. 6 singles. He and Russian teammate Panayot Kusidi are 3-0 at No. 3 doubles.
NC Wesleyan's only losses of the season came on March 11, when it dropped a 6-3 decision at Johns Hopkins (ranked No. 13 at the time), and on March 24, when it fell 5-4 at home to Carnegie Mellon (No. 21 at the time).
One of NC Wesleyan's big wins this season came Feb. 12 in a 5-4 triumph over Kenyon, which was No. 7 at the time and has risen to No. 4 since then.
"I don't think the national ranking committee has been very fair with Wesleyan this season," Northam said. "They were ranked as high as No. 5 but have dropped to No. 19, and I'm not sure why. They've beaten some good national-caliber teams, and they've only lost twice all season. Both of those losses were close and to very good teams."
Whitman, which has yet to lose to an NCAA DIII team this season, and NC Wesleyan have played one common opponent this spring.
Whitman made a whirlwind weekend trip to the East Coast in February, beating both Rhodes and Kalamazoo on a Saturday before slipping past Mary Washington 6-3 on Sunday.
Mary Washington, which finished the regular season with a No. 21 national ranking, hosted NC Wesleyan one week later and again lost by a 6-3 count.
"Both Whitman and NC Wesleyan have 6-3 wins over a good Mary Washington team," Northam said. "There isn't much you can draw from that, other than we should see two evenly matched team go toe-to-toe on Saturday."
The regional gets started at 1 p.m. (EDT) Friday when UT-Tyler (17-5) plays Washington & Lee (15-4) in a first-round match. The winner plays No. 2-ranked Emory (20-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday.
If Whitman gets past NC Wesleyan on Saturday, it will in all likelihood face Emory in the regional final. Emory lost to Amherst in the national finals last year, finishing as the runner-up for the third time in five years. Emory won national titles in 2006 and 2003.
"There's no question this is a tough draw for Whitman," Northam said. "We need to beat two of the best teams in the country if we want to advance to the final eight. "But this isn't the first time we've been the underdog this season. We've risen to the occasion a couple of times this spring; we just need to do it again.
"What I really like about our team this season is our scrappiness, resilience and work ethic. These guys have worked hard all year -- on their conditioning as well as they tennis games. This team is as blue collar as they get."
After Whitman opened its season with losses to two NCAA Division I teams (Montana, Eastern Washington) and an NAIA Division I squad (Lewis-Clark State), it reeled off 19 straight victories. One of those wins was a 6-3 victory over UC-Santa Cruz, a team that has since risen to No. 8 in the national rankings.
After winning its fifth straight Northwest Conference title, Whitman ended the regular season with a second loss to Lewis-Clark State before rolling through the NWC post-season tournament.
Whitman rose as high as No. 1 in the West Region rankings and to No. 8 at the national level. For reasons not especially clear, it saw its regional ranking slip to No. 2 and its national standing fall to No. 11 in the most recent polls.
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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; email@example.com