LEWISTON — Jeff Northam stopped shy of calling it the best season opener of his 17-year tenure as Whitman’s men’s tennis head coach. But Monday’s events certainly prompted a stroll down memory lane in search of a debut gem of similar sparkle.
“This is probably the strongest we’ve started,” Northam said after his Missionaries – ranked 16th in the nation among Division III programs – won the second leg of a two-match series against Lewis-Clark State. “We typically start there. In 20 years, we’ve maybe won one other time. It shows how well the guys are playing.”
The Missionaries and Lewis and Clark — ranked 20th in the NAIA — faced off in back-to-back matches, with Northam sending less-experienced players on court in the first match before unleashing his top-flight squad in the second.
The host team eked out a 5-4 victory in Match 1, riding the momentum of a doubles sweep.
But in the second match, strength-on-strength, Whitman romped. It swept all three doubles matches – vindicating Northam’s mid-week tinkering with pairings — and took five of six singles matches.
In what became an 8-1 win, Whitman won 13 of 15 sets.
“We started with doubles. We changed doubles combos mid-week to try some different things out,” Northam said. “We’re still trying to figure out what works best. We were really good at doubles. I was very impressed with all three against a nationally-ranked team.”
At first doubles, Colton Malesovas and Andrew La Cava won 8-4, the same tally by which Jake Hoeger and Andy Riggs were triumphant at No. 2 doubles. James Rivers and Steven Roston breezed to an 8-2 victory at third doubles, and Whitman had a commanding 3-0 lead.
The Missionaries’ lone setback came at first singles, where Malesovas put up a valiant fight before dropping a 7-6, 7-6 decision. His spirited effort added to Northrup’s optimism.
“Colton played a great match at one,” he said.
La Cava won in a 6-0, 6-1 rout at second singles, and Roston prevailed 7-6, 7-6 in a third singles bout Northam called “topsy-turvy.”
Riggs prevailed 6-2, 6-1 at fourth singles, Petar Jivkov waltzed 6-0, 6-1 at fifth singles and Will Huskey posted a 6-0, 6-3 win at sixth singles to put a bow on a feel-great team win.
We had quite a few seniors that played today,” said Northam. “Andrew, Steven, Andy and Will are all seniors; they’ve been working hard. Our experience set the tone in the match. I’m optimistic coming out of this match.”
In the early match, four Missionaries saw their first action at the collegiate level. There were growing pains for Northam’s No. 7 through No. 12 players, but signs of promise.
L-C State swept doubles play to put Whitman in a hole.
“In college, it’s almost impossible to come from down 3-0. We showed a little bit of inexperience and started slow and flat,” said Northam.
The Missionaries recovered to win four of six singles matches. Jake Hoeger (6-1, 7-5 at first singles) and James Rivers (6-3, 6-4 at second singles) each defeated varsity-caliber competition, while Parker Silverman (6-2, 6-0 at fourth singles) and Joey Diaz (6-2, 6-4 at sixth singles) were victorious in their collegiate debuts.
Whitman opens Northwest Conference play at Linfield on Friday.