Whitman Women's Tennis Team Wins Tournament Final, Lays Claims to NWC's Berth in NCAA DIII Championship Field
News Release Date:
Sunday, April 22
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- With senior Emily Rolston scoring the clinching fifth team point, the Whitman College women's tennis team knocked off Linfield 5-1 in Sunday's final of the Northwest Conference post-season tournament, earning a spot in the NCAA Division III national championship field for the first time in program history.
Playing on Linfield's home courts in McMinnville, Ore., Whitman set the stage for its victory by winning two of three matches in the opening round of doubles for an early 2-1 lead.
"We were absolutely prepared for this match," Whitman coach John Hein said. "We knew that if we played our best we not only had a chance to win but that we should win. We felt that if we got one match in doubles that our depth in singles would make the difference."
Whitman dropped three close decisions to Linfield during the regular season after all three matches in doubles in both cases.
Rolston and first-year doubles partner Morgan Lawless made sure the Whitties wouldn't be swept in doubles on this particular day. They stormed to an 8-1 win at the No. 2 spot, beating Linfield sisters Kaila and Kiana Nip.
"Emily and Morgan were on fire," Hein said. "Combine that with the fact that one of their opponents was playing with an injury made for a relatively easy team point for us in what was still a very intense match."
Whitman has a sibling act of its own, and Morgan's sister Courtney teamed with junior Alyssa Roberg for an 8-6 comeback triumph at No. 1 doubles, subduing Abby Olbrich and Caroline Brigham.
Olbrich and Brigham bolted to a 3-0 lead and was up 5-2, but Roberg and Courtney Lawless won six of the next seven games to win the match and give the Missionaries a huge boost of momentum.
"We were tight to start the No. 1 doubles match, but we started playing to our capability went from 3-6 to 6-6," Hein said. "Alyssa and Courtney then raised their play to a higher level and dominated the last few games."
Lexi Thomas and Kelly Watanabe salvaged a team point for the Wildcats at No. 3 doubles, where they notched an 8-6 victory over Whitman sophomore Hannah Palkowitz and first-team partner Maddy Webster.
"Both teams at No. 3 doubles returned really well and made service holds tough to come by," Hein said. "It was a battle from start to finish, but Linfield got a couple of key points and won the match.
"Despite the loss, Hannan and Maddy played great tennis and were so close to putting us up 3-0 in the team scoring."
With the start of singles, Whitman upped its lead to 4-1 as the Lawless sisters won their matches in straight sets.
Courtney Lawless finished first, rolling to a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Brigham at No. 2 singles. "Courtney continued her steady singles play and did what she needed to do to win," Hein said. "That gave us a 3-1 lead."
Morgan Lawless was a 6-1, 6-3 winner over Thomas at the No. 3 spot. The two sisters are now a combined 35-5 in singles this spring, which includes a 26-1 record against NWC opponents.
"Morgan has found a new level in her singles game in the past two weeks, and it showed in her match," Hein said.
Not long after the Lawless twins took care of business, Rolston finished off a 6-1, 6-3 win at No. 6 singles to clinch the team victory for Whitman. The remaining three matches in singles were left unfinished.
|Alyssa Roberg (front), C. Lawless|
The victory was no doubt a sweet one for Rolston, who has excelled in doubles this spring but struggled a bit in singles. A fixture in the Missionary line-up for four seasons, Rolston is nearing the 100-win plateau in career victories.
"For Emily to clinch the match was a wonderful and proud moment for me," Hein said. "She has been so instrumental in building our program for the past four years.
"This match was more about the stage than the tennis for Em, who overcame the enormity of the moment and played really solid tennis to get the win."
One of the matches left unfinished was at No. 1, where Roberg was up 5-3 in the second set after dropping a 6-4 decision to Olbrich in the first set.
"I was worried about Alyssa because she wasn't able go through her normal preparations last week because of injury," Hein said. "And when you're facing a player as good as Abby Olbrich, you have to stay on your game.
"After losing the first set, Alyssa regained her focus and was serving with two set points in the second when Emily won her match to clinch the team victory."
Junior Kate Kunkel-Patterson led 7-6 (7-5), 1-0 at No. 4 singles when the match was halted. Webster trailed 7-6 (7-4), 3-2 at No. 5 singles.
"Both Maddy and Kate were really battling," Hein said. "Kate continues to work hard on her singles game, and it was showing in her match against an opponent who won almost all of her matches this season. Kate also likes to play in the big matches."
Hein also added his ongoing support to hold the post-season tournament on the campus of the top-seeded team.
"The Linfield fans brought energy and we had an amazing contingent of families and friends cheering for us," he said. "It created the type of atmosphere that a final should have.
"I also was very happy for our entire team. This was a 14-player effort and everyone contributed so much to this championship.
"We've got great leadership and experience but we are also a team that is improving and growing each week, so it would have been disappointing to have seen our season end today.
"Fortunately, we now have the opportunity to work hard preparing for the first round of the NCAA tournament," he said. "Our goal is to not only represent the NWC well but to go all the way to the final eight in North Carolina."
Whitman, now 17-4 on the season, is No. 8 in the most recent West Region rankings.
First-round matches and locations for the national tournament will be announced on May 7.
Sunday's setback for Linfield, now 13-5 on the season, was its first loss to an NWC opponent this spring. The Wildcats are ranked seventh in the region and No. 30 at the national level. New rankings are due May 3.
|2012 NWC Tournament Champs|
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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; email@example.com