Whitman men open tennis season this weekend

Defending national champ UC-Santa Cruz rolls into town after Whitman plays Lewis-Clark State today.

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WALLA WALLA — One of the best seasons in the history of Whitman College men’s tennis ended last May with a loss to the University of California-Santa Cruz in the opening round of the NCAA Division III national tournament.

UC-Santa Cruz, which rolled to its third national title in five years last spring, brings its most recent No. 1 national ranking to Walla Walla this weekend to help Whitman kick off a new season.

Whitman, the two-time defending Northwest Conference champion, makes its 2010 debut at 1 p.m. today against Lewis-Clark State, a perennial NAIA national powerhouse. The Whitman-Santa Cruz battle then follows at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Both matches will take place in Whitman’s Bratton Tennis Center.

"This is a great way to open the season," Whitman coach Jeff Northam says. "Both Santa Cruz and Lewis-Clark State have great coaches who run great programs. It can only help us to face such strong teams early in the season."

Now in his 30th season at Santa Cruz, Bob Hansen is the dean of Division III tennis coaches. The Banana Slugs have won seven national titles since 1989 and have advanced to the final four 19 times in 23 years.

The Banana Slugs graduated five of their top six players from last spring’s championship squad, but Northam knows that Hansen will bring plenty of talent to the courts on Saturday.

"Bob gets great recruits and he does a great job developing players," Northam said. "His teams are always strong."

Santa Cruz has already played a pair of matches, losing twice in competitive matches to NCAA Division I teams.

In falling 5-1 to UC-Davis, the Banana Slugs lost one doubles match in a tie-breaker and three singles matches in three sets.

Bryan Pybas, a Banana Slug junior, won his match at No. 1 singles and teamed with Ulrisch Capaul for a second victory at No. 1 doubles.

Whitman also expects a strong test in today’s opener against Lewis-Clark State. Under coach Kai Fong, the Warriors have advanced to the NAIA national tournament in all but a few of the past 20 years.

Fong’s 2010 rosters includes players from around the world, from Chile, Spain, Germany and Turkey to Indonesia, Malaysia, Burundi and New Caledonia. The Warriors opened their season last Saturday with a pair of 9-0 victories over Whitworth.

In their most recent match-up, Whitman squeaked past Lewis-Clark State 5-4 last January in Lewiston, Idaho.

Whitman cruised to a 24-5 record last season, winning 11 consecutive matches at one point.

It also finished off its third straight undefeated conference season and has strung together 50 consecutive NWC regular season victories.

Much of last year’s Whitman team is back in the fold, and senior standout Matt Solomon returns after playing his junior spring season for NCAA Division I Boise State.

Solomon capped his sophomore season at Whitman by winning NWC Player of the Year honors.

Jeff Tolman, a highly touted freshman, gives added punch to a roster that includes six more talented seniors: Christoph Fuchs, Jake Cappel, Nadeem Kassam, Jasper Follows, David Deming and Thomas Roston.

A strong junior class features Etienne Moshevich, Chris Bailey and Quin Miller, although Moshevich starts the season nursing a bad shoulder that plagued him for much of last spring.

Sophomores Adriel Borshanksy and Conor Holton-Burke are also battling for time on the courts, as are freshmen Matt Tesmond and Sam Sadeghi.

To start the season, Whitman is ranked No. 26 nationally and No. 6 in a West Region that includes schools in California and the Southwest.

In singles rankings, Solomom is No. 11 at the national level and No. 3 in the region. Tolman holds a No. 9 regional ranking, and he and Solomon are No. 6 in the regional doubles rankings.

Bailey is ranked No. 16 in the region in singles. He and Follows also have a No. 13 regional ranking in doubles.

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