Whits hold homecourt advantage

Whitman’s Andrew La Cava winds up to hit a forehand during the first set of the doubles final during the USTA/ITA Regional Championship Monday afternoon at Whitman’s new outdoor tennis facility.

Whitman’s Andrew La Cava winds up to hit a forehand during the first set of the doubles final during the USTA/ITA Regional Championship Monday afternoon at Whitman’s new outdoor tennis facility.

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Andrew La Cava’s Missionary teammate James Rivers returns a baseline forehand during the first set of the doubles final. La Cava won the regional singles final, and teamed with Rivers for the doubles championship.

WALLA WALLA — They were put to the test by fellow Missionaries Andy Riggs and Steven Roston, but reigning USTA/ITA Regional doubles champions Andrew La Cava and James Rivers prevailed to win their second straight 5-7, 6-4 (10-5), on Whitman College’s new outdoor tennis facility under cloudy skies on Monday.

And Monday night, La Cava downed Missionary teammate Petar Jivkov 6-2, 7-5 to earn his third Northwest Regional Championships singles title in the last four years.

La Cava, who has battled back from a back injury that limited his singles play last season, did not lose a set in singles on his way to the title, garnering him a trip to the small college nationals in October and, also, All-American status.

“He’s healthy,” Whitman head coach Jeff Northam said. “It’s great to see Andrew play well. It was just a great performance by Andrew ... well earned. He’s been working hard this year to get back in shape and it’s paid off.”

“Just being pain free is the best feeling,” La Cava said. “It’s so wonderful to be able to go out there and play a long match and not have to worry about my back. It was a great match. Petar played really well. It’s great to see a freshman playing that well early in the season. I’m really excited about our team.”

On a cool night under the lights at Whitman’s renovated outdoor courts, La Cava broke the Missionary first-year Jivkov often and early in the opening set. The crucial moment came with La Cava up 2-1 and Jivkov serving with a 40-15 lead. La Cava scratched back into the game and managed to break Jivkov, giving him a commanding 3-1 advantage.

In the second set, Jivkov’s outstanding ground strokes began to take effect and he broke La Cava to take a 3-2 lead. The two players proceeded to break each other for the next five games, leaving them knotted at 5-all.

La Cava then held serve to lead 6-5, and in the final game, Jivkov — who had made it to the finals as an unseeded first-year player, just as La Cava had done when he won the title three years ago — began to show his fatigue, and La Cava broke him to take the match.

La Cava’s victory marks the seventh straight regional singles title for Whitman.

When the Missionaries won the doubles title earlier in the day, it was the sixth in seven years. It was a guarantee, as it was an all-Whitman final in doubles, as well.

In that doubles final, La Cava and Rivers came back to tie the match in the second set and it was ruled that the match would be decided by a tiebreak, not a third set.

The teams began a “break fest” with the first six points being earned on break points — the score knotted at 3-all. The score was tied again at 5-5 when La Cava hit an overhead winner that propelled his team to win five unanswered points and take the match.

In the early going, it didn’t look like Rivers and La Cava would ever have a sniff of a tiebreak as Roston and Riggs jumped out to a 4-1 lead.

Rivers and La Cava fought back to make the first set close, but it was too high of a mountain to climb.

The second set was evenly played, with Rivers and La Cava getting a needed break. La Cava held serve for the set at 5-4 and the match went to the tiebreak.

La Cava and Rivers came into the tournament as the No. 1 seed.

Entering the tournament as the No. 4 seed, Riggs and Roston made it to the finals after upending second-seeded Troy Zuroske and Giancarlo Battaglia of Pacific University, 8-6.

With the victory, Rivers and La Cava as a team (and La Cava as an individual) advance to the USTA/ITA National Small College Championships, Oct. 10-13 in Fort Myers, Fla. The duo also earns All-American honors.

“I’m excited,” Northam said Whitman’s future. “I see all the guys rising and playing really well. I am looking forward to this year. I think we have a great national (non-conference) schedule and I think our conference has gotten better, so I look forward to some good challenges in the conference.”

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