WALLA WALLA - For the second time in a decade, veteran Whitman College men's tennis coach Jeff Northam has been named NCAA Division III West Region Coach of the Year by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA).
Despite losing three top-notch seniors to graduation a year ago, Northam led his 2011-12 roster to one of Whitman's most successful seasons in more than two decades.
Whitman kicked off its banner year last October by continuing its recent domination of the ITA's annual fall tournament. Sophomore Andrew La Cava won the singles title while senior Connor Holton-Burke and junior Matt Tesmond captured the doubles crown.
Success started to snowball early in the spring season as Whitman knocked off West Coast powerhouse UC-Santa Cruz and then swept Mary Washington, Rhodes and Kalamazoo during a weekend trip to the East Coast.
Those victories helped Whitman vault to No. 1 in the West Region rankings and to No. 8 at the national level. Those are the highest rankings in Northam's 18 years as coach of his alma mater.
By the of April end, Whitman had won 19 consecutive regular season matches, polished off its fifth-straight Northwest Conference (NWC) title and advanced to the NCAA DIII national championship tournament for the sixth time in as many years.
Northam, who was named NWC Coach of the Year for the fourth time in five years, guided his squad to a sixth-straight undefeated NWC regular season. Whitman's winning streak against conference opponents now stands at 90; its last regular season loss was in 2006.
Northam also watched with pride this past year as his players reaped a number of awards.
La Cava was named NWC Player of the Year, which marked the sixth time in seven seasons that a Whitman player took home that award. Holton-Burke and junior Jeff Tolman were named to the All-NWC First Team while freshman James Rivers received Honorable Mention.
Holton-Burke also received the Borleske Trophy as Whitman's top male athlete and became just the second Whitman athlete to garner Academic All-American First-Team honors. He followed in the footsteps of tennis player Christoph Fuchs, who netted top academic honors in 2010 and is now enrolled in medical school studies.
John Hein, now in his sixth season as the Whitman women's tennis coach, was among those nominating Northam for his latest ITA coaching award.
"Jeff is the best coach I've ever known in terms of cultivating a great team environment," Hein says. "He also knows his stuff on the court and his teams always play at or above expectations."
Northam's coaching job this past year was "special," Hein says, in that his team rose from No. 29 in the national rankings in the fall to the top 10 in the spring.