WALLA WALLA - Less than 24 hours after an emotional victory over the sixth-ranked team in the country, UC-Santa Cruz, Whitman College returned to the courts Sunday afternoon and opened defense of its Northwest Conference men's tennis title with a 9-0 victory over George Fox.
Playing its fourth match in three days, Whitman made great use of its depth and juggled its line-up but still rolled to quick wins in all but two matches.
Conor Holton-Burke and doubles partner Matt Tesmond cruised to an 8-2 victory over Preston Mann and Drew Milton at No. 1 doubles.
Andrew La Cava and James Rivers, a combo that defeated Eastern Washington University's No. 2 duo a few weeks ago, reunited for an 8-2 victory over Shawn Aldrich and David Munoz in the No. 2 doubles slot.
One of the day's best matches came at No. 3 doubles, where Sam Sadeghi and Steven Roston needed a handful of match points to finish an 8-6 victory over Justin McClain and Peter Brown.
The best match in singles came at No. 4, where Will Huskey recovered from a sluggish start to beat Milton 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.
At the top of the singles ladder, Holton-Burke slid past Mann 6-2, 6-1 at No. 1 while Rivers beat Aldrich 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2.
Adriel Borshansky stepped into the No. 3 slot, beating McClain 6-3, 6-1. Roston got the win at No. 4, downing Brown 6-1, 6-2, and Colton Malesovas completed the sweep with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Munoz at No. 6.
On Saturday night, Whitman, ranked No. 29 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason poll, took charge at the outset, knocking No. 6 Santa Cruz on its heels with a sweep of three intense matches in the opening round of doubles.
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Whitman then captured two of the first three decisions in singles to clinch the match at 5-1.
Getting those last two points in singles, however, was anything but easy.
"UC-Santa Cruz has one of the finest traditions in DIII and we knew they were going to compete hard," Whitman coach Jeff Northam said.
But Jeff Tolman parlayed his many skills into a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Santa Cruz's Erich Koenig in the No. 2 singles slot. That extended Whitman's lead to 4-0 and lifted the home team to the verge of victory.
Rivers nearly secured that victory a few moments later at No. 4, working his way to match point in a second-set tie-breaker. But Santa Cruz's Erik Rosner wasn't about to let his side go so quickly or quietly into the night.
Rosner rallied to win the second set, sending his match to a third set.
Meanwhile, Holton-Burke was showing tons of grit at No. 3 singles, battling back from an early break to take a 7-6 first-set decision from Andre Halabi.
"Halabi is a warrior who makes you win every point - he stays close to the baseline and moves his opponent around the court," Northam said. "That was a wail of a first set ... a marathon."
Once Holton-Burke made it through that opening set, the rangy right-hander finished off a dominating 6-0 second set to score the clinching fifth team point.
Santa Cruz tallied its first team point when Deven Nerenberg, a talented NCAA DI transfer from UC-Santa Barbara, out-dueled Whitman's Andrew La Cava for a 6-3, 6-4 victory at No. 1 singles.
After winning his first set, Nerenberg raced to a 4-1 lead in the second before La Cava caught fire, breaking back to even the second set at 4-4.
Apart from getting himself back into his own match, Northam said, La Cava also fed some "positive energy to his teammates" at a point when the team match was still in doubt.
Nerenberg took the next two games to pocket the win, and Rosner capitalized on his second-set survival to earn a 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 triumph over Rivers at No. 4. "That was a great match for both Erik and James," Northam said.
With the team match decided, the two sides split the last two matches in singles. Whitman's Sadeghi dropped a 5-7, 6-2, 10-7 battle to Bryce Bettwy at No. 5, but Borshansky subdued Sam Rogers 6-2, 6-4 at No. 6.
The match, which started at 7 p.m., ended at midnight.
Whitman heads to the East Coast next weekend for matches against three national caliber NCAA Division III teams. All three matches will be played at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.