WALLA WALLA — It was the kind of competitive battle one would expect when two regionally- and nationally-ranked NCAA Division III teams square off in the athletic arena.
In this case, the confrontation involved the women’s tennis teams from Whitman and La Verne, from California.
The Missionaries and Leopards wrapped up the annual Whitman Winter Tennis Classic Sunday afternoon at the Bratton Tennis Center with a dandy struggle.
In the end, the Los Angeles County-based school, ranked seventh in the West Region and 28th nationally, got the best of No. 5 regionally — and No. 16 nationally-ranked — Whitman by the slimmest of margins, 5-4.
La Verne won four of six singles matches and one doubles contest while improving its record to 3-0. The Leopards kicked off the Classic on Saturday with a win over Lewis & Clark.
The Missionaries are 1-5.
“We knew it would be an even match and that it would come down to a couple of points here and there,” Whitman coach John Hein said. “We could have won the match. We were disappointed with the score, but not the effort.”
Whitman earned victories in both No. 2 and No. 3 doubles. Erin Bell and Katrina Allick posted an 8-3 triumph over La Verne’s Bridget Etchegaray and Allison Moncrief at No. 2 while Jenna Dobrin and Maddy Webster recorded an 8-4 decision at No. 3 over Andrea Madrigal and Megan Soucy.
“We came out with good energy and were able to carry it through,” Hein said. “We were aggressive and going for the right shots.”
By the time Bell and Webster took the court for their No. 5 and 6 singles matches, respectively, the team outcome was no longer in doubt. But both players responded with straight-set wins. Bell swept Etchegaray, 6-4, 6-0, and Webster got the best of Shenelle Trujillo, 6-3, 6-2.
“Erin and Maddy played solid,” Hein said. “It’s hard to focus when the match is decided, but they did a good job of doing that. Erin has been working on starting strong,” Hein said. “She focused through the distractions of the other matches. It’s the most consistent tennis she has played.”
“We’re stronger in all of our bottom-half matches and today showed that,” Hein said. “We’re stronger than we were last year and that’s nice to see.”
Whitman opens defense of its Nothwest Conference championship next weekend when it hosts Linfield on Friday and Willamette on Saturday.
The Missionaries next travel to Cheney Sunday to oppose Eastern Washington.