WALLA WALLA - Overcoming a determined Willamette effort in singles, the Whitman College men's tennis team continued its Northwest Conference domination with a 5-0 victory over the Bearcats in Sunday's finals of the conference playoffs.
Whitman, now 16-6 on the season (12-0 NWC), advances to the NCAA Division III national championship tournament for a fifth straight year.
Playing outdoors on its home courts, and backed by a big bunch of enthusiastic student fans, Whitman jumped to an early 3-0 lead with a quick sweep of the opening round of doubles.
"Willamette is a very good team, and we know they play their best tennis in singles, so it was important for us to get off to a good start in doubles," Whitman coach Jeff Northam said. "Our guys were really focused and intense, and with great support from our fans, we played really well in doubles, which helped set the tone for the rest of the match."All of our guys played so well today," he said. "We got down early in a few singles matches but then battled back when the chips were down.
"I've praised this team all season. The guys work so hard, and it seems like they've learned a lot about competing the past few years.
"It's easy to get fired up when you're the underdog," he said. "It's not so easy when you're the front-runner and expected to win, which has been the case with our team in recent years.
"Our guys have learned to guard against that. They were ready to go from the start today, and they competed hard until the end."
Etienne Moshevich, whose No. 3 singles match was left unfinished, was as vocal and boisterous as ever on the court, and worked to keep Whitman energy levels high, but he got plenty of help from a big crowd of students and fans that included Dr. George Ball, a devoted supporter of Whitman tennis for the past half-century.
"ET (Moshevich) is our lion on the court, and his spirit and will to win are off the charts," Northam said. "We expect that from ET, but all of our guys were amazed by the student and fan support today.
"This was a special moment for our guys. Playing in front of such a big crowd was something they enjoyed tremendously. We've never played before such a big crowd anywhere we've ever played."
Whitman, which has won the last four NWC titles, is ranked No. 22 nationally and No. 7 in the West Region. Willamette is No. 11 in the regional rankings.
First-round matches in the NCAA DIII national tournament are slated for May 14, and Northam doesn't expect to learn his team's first-round assignment until three or four days prior to that date.
Holton-Burke and La Cava plan to compete in California's Ojai Valley tennis tournament at the end of April, and Whitman still has a non-conference dual match slated for May 7 against Lewis-Clark State.
Whitman 5, Willamett 0
SINGLES - Conor Holton-Burke, Whit, vs. Joshua Wong, Will, 6-3, 2-3, unfinished; Andrew La Cava, Whit, def. Michael Baumgartner, Will, 7-5, 6-2; Etienne Moshevich, Whit, vs. Cody Ferguson, Will, 6-2, 5-3, unfinished; Jeff Tolman, Whit, def. Matthew Houser, Will, 7-5, 6-4; Sam Sadeghi, Whit, vs. Garrett Vincent, Will, unfinished; Adriel Borshansky, Will, vs. Will Agnew-Svoboda, Will, unfinished.
DOUBLES - Conor Holton-Burke/Andrew La Cava, Whit, def. Michael Baumgartner/Matthew Houser, Will, 8-3; Etienne Moshevich/Jeff Tolman, Whit, def. Cody Ferguson/Joshua Wong, Will, 8-2; Quin Miller/Matt Tesmond, Whit, def. Cameron Thompson/Garrett Vincent, Will, 8-1.