Total team effort propels 'Cats to second straight win
McMINNVILLE, Ore. – A three-set comeback win at No. 5 singles from Kelly Watanabe (Soph., Kirkland, Wash.) helped clinch a nail-biting 5-4 victory for the Linfield women’s tennis team over visiting Whitworth Sunday afternoon at the Linfield Tennis Center.
With the day’s outcome hanging in the balance with Linfield leading 4-3 and the final two singles matches being contested at separate locations – one inside the Rutschman Fieldhouse and the other outdoors on the Linfield Tennis Courts – it was Watanabe who sealed the deal for the Wildcats. After dropping the first set to Caylee Lamm, Watanabe dominated her Pirate opponent over the final two sets for the 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 decisive victory.
“Kelly came through relying on her strengths of her game and competing with true confidence,” said head coach Amy Dames Smith.
Though the team victory had already been decided, Whitworth’s Saryn Mooney outlasted Lexi Thomas (Sr., Redding, Calif.) in the final match of the afternoon, winning two tiebreak sets to get the point by a final score of 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 7-6 (7-3).
Earlier in the afternoon, Mooney and doubles partner Taylor Pena waged an incredible battle against Thomas and Gretchen Jernstedt (Soph., Wilsonville, Ore.). In a marathon of a top-flight competition that lasted approximately 90 minutes, the team from Whitworth came through for the 9-8 (12-10) victory that prevented Linfield from sweeping through doubles. Down 6-2 in the seven-point tiebreak, Whitworth rallied to knot the score at 6-6 before finally coming out on the winning end of an entertaining and undoubtedly exhausting 22 total points.
The ‘Cats claimed the remaining two doubles flights. Caroline Brigham (Jr., Eagle, Idaho) and Kwynn Ecton (Fr., Fort Collins, Colo.) blanked Jessi Steele and Annika Westre 8-0 at No. 2 doubles while Watanabe and Kaila Nip (Soph., Lahaina, Hawaii) topped Morgan McDivitt and Megan Wingfield 8-3.
Riding the momentum of their successes in doubles, Nip and Brigham made quick work of their respective singles opponents to help Linfield open up a 4-1 lead in the race for the team victory. At No. 3 singles, Nip downed Pena 6-0, 6-1 and Brigham followed up with the 6-2, 6-3 victory in the second flight.
“We had a strong performance in doubles to help get things started,” Dames Smith said. “Kaila and Caroline were solid and helped solidify things.”
McDivitt and Wingfield picked up a pair of singles wins to pull the Pirates to within a point in the team score. McDivitt earned the 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Jernstedt in the sixth flights while Wingfield took care of Ecton at No. 4 singles by a score of 6-2, 6-3.
Watanabe’s victory helped Linfield improve its season record to an even 2-2 within Northwest Conference action and 2-4 overall. Whitworth, meanwhile, saw its three-match win streak come to an end and dropped to 3-3 overall and 3-2 in league competition.
NEXT: The Wildcats play their next seven matches on the road, starting with back-to-back NWC contests at Pacific and Willamette March 1-2. Friday’s match in Forest Grove is set for a 3:30 p.m. start, while Saturday’s competition in Salem is slated to begin at 1 p.m.