Linfield (8-9, 7-5 NWC) enters the single-elimination tournament as the fourth seed, matching up against top-seeded and 17th-ranked Whitman (15-3, 12-0 NWC) Friday at 10 a.m. The rivals, who have split the tournament championship the past two seasons, played just once this year in the conference opener, won by the host Missionaries 8-1.
“We played Whitman in one of the first matches at the start of the season, so we're excited to play them with more matches under our belt and a healthy lineup,” said head coach Amy Dames Smith. “No doubt, Whitman is a solid team, but if we stay focused on things within our control and expect our best mentally and physically, it's going to be a great battle.”
According to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Whitman is considered the 17th-best program in Division III and fifth best in the West. Sophomore Courtney Lawless and senior Alyssa Roberg comprise the region’s No. 4 doubles tandem, and are ranked third and 12th, respectively, in singles. With a perfect record against league opponents, the Missionaries captured their first regular-season championship since 1988, when the Northwest Conference still competed in the NAIA.
Linfield, the 11th-ranked team in the West, rides a three-match win streak into the tournament. Caroline Brigham (Jr., Eagle, Idaho), Kelly Watanabe (Soph., Kirkland, Wash.) and Gretchen Jernstedt (Soph., Wilsonville, Ore.) lead the ‘Cats with nine singles wins apiece. Watanabe and Kaila Nip (Soph., Lahaina, Hawaii) boast the team’s best doubles record (9-5) at No. 3 doubles, while veteran Lexi Thomas (Sr., Redding, Calif.) and newcomer Kwynn Ecton (Fr., Fort Collins, Colo.) round out the Linfield lineup.
“We're looking forward to the opportunity to continue to grow as a team in postseason competition,” Dames Smith said.
Since the Northwest Conference introduced a team tournament in 1999, Linfield has reached the championship match in all but one year, winning it eight times overall including a stretch of seven straight titles from 2002-08.
Linfield and Whitman open tournament action Friday morning, with No. 2 seed Lewis & Clark (15-4, 11-1 NWC) and No. 3 Whitworth (8-8, 7-5 NWC) to follow at approximately 2 p.m. The two semifinal winners advance to the championship match Saturday morning at 9 a.m., when they will battle for the league’s automatic berth in the national tournament.
Whitworth, Linfield and Puget Sound all finished with five points in the official NWC tennis point standings, but Whitworth (2-1) compiled the best record against the tied teams. The Pirates twice defeated the Loggers and lost to Linfield, while the Wildcats split their two matches against Whitworth and UPS.
All matches begin with three doubles flights, just like during the regular season. However, at the tournament, teams play only until one club clinches the decisive fifth point, at which all other matches cease. More information about the tournament can be found here.