WALLA WALLA - The Whitman College men's tennis team grabbed sole ownership of its fourth consecutive Northwest Conference championship on Sunday, scoring a decisive 8-1 victory over visiting Pacific Lutheran.
Playing on its outdoor courts, Whitman finished off its fifth straight undefeated NWC regular season, extending its record to 12-0 in conference and 14-6 overall.
Whitman had already clinched the No. 1 seed in the NWC playoffs, but it needed a victory in Sunday's regular season finale to avoid sharing the conference crown with 11-1 Willamette.
The four-team playoffs get underway next Saturday with Whitman and coach Jeff Northam serving as the hosts.
In one semifinal, top-seeded Whitman plays No. 4 Pacific University (7-5 NWC, 8-8) at 10 a.m.
The other semifinal, set to follow at about 2 p.m., pits second-seeded Willamette (11-1, 12-5) against No. 3 Whitworth (8-4, 11-9).
The winners of those two matches play next Sunday for an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III national championship field.
Whitman, ranked No. 22 nationally, is seeking its fifth straight trip to nationals.
With Sunday's loss, Pacific Lutheran saw its season end with records of 4-8 and 6-12. The match also marked end of a stellar 13-year coaching career for Pacific Lutheran's Craig Hamilton, who was an NWC singles and doubles champion for Lutes in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
After the match, Northam praised his current Whitman roster for filling a huge void that was left by last spring's graduation of seven seniors.
"How many teams can lose seven very good seniors, including a two-time conference player of the year, and come back to win another championship," Northam asked.
"This season has been special because this group of Whitman players worked so very hard. From start to finish, they kept their focus and kept working hard. They really haven't had a letdown all season.
"Out of all the conference matches we played this season, we only lost five or six team points," Northam added. "That's an astounding statistic, and it says a lot about our guys giving their very best effort, day after day."
In Sunday's match, Whitman snatched an early 2-1 lead by winning two of three decisions in doubles.
Etienne Moshevich and Jeff Tolman posted an 8-4 victory at No. 2 doubles, beating Zack AhYat and Michael Parretta. Moshevich and Tolman ran their NWC doubles record to 9-0.
Quin Miller and junior Adriel Borshansky got the win at No. 3, rolling 8-2 over Reed Gunstone and Neal Berg.
But the Lutes salvaged a team point at No. 1 doubles, where Taylor Dickey and Scott Sheldon celebrated an 8-6 upset of Conor Holton-Burke and Andrew La Cava.
It was the first NWC doubles loss of the season for Holton-Burke and La Cava, who also won last fall's ITA regional doubles title.
There were no stumbles in singles for Whitman, which took all six matches in straight sets.
Playing at No. 1, Holton-Burke remained undefeated in NWC singles play with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Sheldon.
"Conor has worked tremendously hard to get where he is today as a player," Northam said. "It's always a great accomplishment to get through this conference with an undefeated record at No. 1 singles."
La Cava got past Dickey 6-4, 6-2 at No. 2 singles, and it was Tolman posting a 6-2, 6-1 win over AhYat at No. 3.
Borshansky was a 6-2, 6-4 winner at No. 4, beating Daniel Cotton, while Miller was almost perfect at No. 5 with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Reed Gunstone.
Will Huskey completed the singles sweep for Whitman, downing Neal Berg 6-3, 6-4.
Whitman 8, PLU 1
SINGLES - Conor Holton-Burke, Whit, def. Scott Sheldon, ,PLU, 6-3, 7-5; Andrew La Cava, Whit, def. Taylor Dickey, PLU, 6-4, 6-2; Jeff Tolman, Whit, def. Zack AhYat, PLU, 6-2, 6-1; Adriel Borshansky, Whit, def. Daniel Cotton, PLU, 6-2, 6-4; Quin Miller, Whit, def. Reed Gunstone, PLU, 6-0, 6-1; Will Huskey, Whit, def. Neal Berg, PLU, 6-3, 6-4.
DOUBLES - Taylor Dickey/Scott Sheldon, PLU, def. Conor Holton-Burke/Andrew La Cava, Whit, 8-6; Jeff Tolman/Etienne Moshevich, Whit, def. Zack AhYat/Michael Parretta, PLU, 8-4; Quin Miller/Ariel Borshansky, Whit, def. Reed Gunstone/Neal Berg, PLU 8-2.