WALLA WALLA — For more than a century, the outdoor tennis courts at Whitman College, situated in the heart of campus, have symbolized the integration of athletics and student life at Whitman.
The courts, which serve as center for recreation and a focus of activity when Whitman’s perennially successful tennis teams are in action, are undergoing a major renovation this summer, as not only will a new surface be applied, but the number of courts will be increased from four to six.
“I am grateful to the many folks who have contributed their time, effort and resources towards this very important project,” said Whitman College Athletic Director Dean Snider. “These new courts, in this location, will allow us to offer outstanding student experiences in our tennis programs as we compete with the best in the nation. I am very pleased for our students and tennis programs.”
There are many benefits to adding the two courts, the most significant being the ability to play all six singles matches of a collegiate competition simultaneously at one location.
College matches are composed of three doubles matches, followed by six singles matches, with the first team garnering five victories crowned the winner.
With only four outdoor courts in the past, the two remaining singles matches were played inside or started outside after the conclusion of earlier matches, causing close team matches to become protracted and making it difficult for players and coaches to know the status of the team match.
With the renovation, coaches will no longer be needed in two places, fans will not have to choose between venues, and matches will be more cohesive and pack more drama.
Having the courts stay on campus is extremely important, according to longtime men’s tennis head coach Jeff Northam. “We are so blessed to have one of, if not the best, outdoor locations in the nation,” said Northam. “Where the courts are located gives our teams a special opportunity to practice and compete in the heart of the campus. Having two additional courts in the middle of campus will make Whitman one of the premiere small-college venues in the nation.”
“For me this is a dream come true,” he said. “One of my long-term goals at Whitman has been to get six outdoor courts. This is such an exciting moment in the history of tennis at Whitman College.”
Other benefits of the renovation include the enhancement of team practices and recreation for the entire Whitman community; allowing Whitman to host national events (six outdoor courts are essential to hosting an NCAA regional/national tournament); expansion of the facility without encroachment on current playing fields; and an upgrade to facilities that puts Whitman closer to its conference and national peers.
“It can’t be overstated how much great facilities help in attracting recruits to look at Whitman,” said Missionary women’s tennis head coach John Hein. “We have one of the best indoor facilities in Division III. But, college tennis is an outdoor sport with an indoor backup. So having more courts to practice and play on not only looks good to the outside world, but also saves precious time for our players and lets them play outdoors more efficiently. This all adds up to an incredible experience for our dedicated student-athletes.”
The Whitman women’s team has advanced to the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, winning two Northwest Conference tournament crowns in succession, and the regular-season conference title in 2013 — the program’s first outright championship since 1988.
Meanwhile the men’s program has won six straight NWC titles, has advanced to the NCAA Tournament seven consecutive times and has won 102 straight regular-season conference dual matches, dating back to the 2006 season.
Although the courts will essentially remain in their current location, some realignment will occur and a few trees and sections of lawn will be removed to accommodate the additional courts.
The current surface will be torn out and recycled as a base for the new courts, which will have a new state-of-the art surface.
A new drainage system will be installed, geared toward greater sustainability of the surface.
Construction crews began work soon after Whitman’s commencement May 19, with the project slated for completion by the time students return for the fall semester.