Opening the conference season

Jeff Northam - Monday, February 22, 2016


Over the weekend we started conference play with 9-0 victories over George Fox and Lewis Clark College. Important victories for us as they were against two of the better teams in the NWC (Fox is #12 in the West region and LC is #13 in the region). Also the NWC has a very bizarre “round robin and half” schedule for tennis. This means we play every team once and half of the teams twice. In an effort to balance out the standings when teams play each other twice the match score is “averaged” together to make one result. So if Team A Def. Team B 5-4 early in the season but then loses to Team B 3-6 later in the year Team B gets conference victory.


Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly with this system (I treated myself to this movie last night). The good is it makes each individual match important. Even after clinching a dual match victory it is huge to put the hammer down and win as decisively as possible. This is great motivation for players still playing – those remaining matches can be huge in terms of conference standings.


In my opinion the bad of this system is two-fold – one it can make matches almost meaningless and two it can make wins worthless. Let me explain. By defeating George Fox and LC 9-0 it is almost mathematically impossible for them to record the conference “win” over us. For that to happen they would need to beat us worse than 9-0 – i.e. defeat us 9-0 and drop fewer sets. If we win 1 doubles pro-set we take the combined “match” against them. Or here is another strange example from the weekend. Whitworth “upset” George Fox 6-3 in Spokane over the weekend. I put upset in quotes because even though Fox is #12 and Whitworth #18 I predicted Whitworth would win this match. So this match puts George Fox in a bit of pickle. When these two teams play again later in the year George Fox could win the rematch but if they don’t thump Whitworth their win won’t count and they will take the “conference standings loss” – not receiving any credit for the win. I understand the reasoning behind this system. Since it’s a rotation which teams play each other twice it’s possible for one of the better teams to have a “losing” record if they play the top teams twice and a weaker team to have a better record if they play the weaker teams twice. This happened a few years ago where Pacific was the #4 seed in the conference tournament with a losing record – they played the top 3 teams twice and took 6 losses whereas the #5 team had played the weaker teams twice and picked up 6 wins. Looks funny and is confusing to see the conference standings posted on a web page and teams with better records not getting into the end of the year conference tournament.

Keeping with the movie theme here is the ugly. WE ARE THE ONLY CONFERENCE IN THE NATION THAT PLAYS MORE THAN A SINGLE ROUND ROBIN. Since tennis is limited in the dates we can play this hampers the ability to put together a competitive schedule. This schedule can also reduce the chance of making the NCAA tournament for individuals or a team seeking at large-bid. One of the criterion used in NCAA selections is strength of schedule (with emphasis on last half of the season). I’ve seen this play out several times for NCAA individual selections. If a singles player or a doubles teams “on the bubble” it ONLY hurts to play in a match with a weak strength of schedule. Hypothetically a #1 singles player could win a match 6-0, 6-0 and it hurts their strength of schedule, potentially keeping them out of the NCAA tournament. It’s just ugly to set up a conference system that rewards players for not playing! Don’t get me wrong, teams in the conference should play each other … but only once. Don’t force bad match ups on teams. I’ve been coaching in the NWC awhile now and the obvious solution is to play a single round robin and let the coaches schedule other matches. We are pretty geographically challenged (the next closest D3 school is UC Santa Cruz) so by default coaches will schedule the other teams in the conference. However, teams will probably seek out similar ability teams for competitive matches – the tops teams will probably gravitate towards each other and the weaker teams to each other looking for competitive matches. Again this after already playing a singles round robin.


Ok my yearly rant is now off. Let’s talk tennis!


On Saturday we were very fortunate to have sunny weather and was able to play our George Fox match outdoors! Even though it was a bit chilly (high 40s) all the players appreciated playing in the sunshine. Though spectators probably weren’t quite as happy.


We often forget how important momentum is in tennis matches. Players can get hot or cold and points can go by quickly (especially in doubles). Case in point -- #1 & #3 doubles on Satrday. At #1 doubles Zach/Phil were locked in a battle against one of the better doubles in the region (a few weeks ago the Fox team defeated the #8 doubles team in the nation). Phil/Zach were down 2-4 and then reeled off 14 straight points and 6 straight games to win 8-4! Crazy stuff at this high a level to win that many points in a row. At #3 doubles Jake/Petar went down 0-2 before winning 8 straight games. The most competitive doubles of the day was #2 were Bobby/Adam won 8-5.


In singles we got quick wins at #5 (Adam) 6-3, 6-2, #6 Gary (6-1, 6-1), #1 Zach (6-4, 6-1), #4 Jivkov (6-1, 6-2) to put us up 7-0. The remaining two matches featured great third set efforts from Robert who overcame some inner demons to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 and for Phil to grind out a 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 win over one of the better players in the conference.


This was a gratifying win since last time we played George Fox they swept us in doubles and we had to fight tooth and nail to pull out a 5-4 victory.


Sunday played a banged up Lewis Clark team. Too bad they were missing two of their better players as this would have been much more competitive match. Honestly this one of the teams in the conference I look forward to playing. Helps that I’m good friends with their coach but I know when we play against LC it’s going to be well played and a well behaved match.


In doubles Petar/Jake were still courting lady momentum and won 8-0 (as a duo they ripped off 16 straight games over the weekend). Impressive since they were playing against a huge serving team – both LC players possess booming serves! It was very gratifying to see the intensity and high level of play coming from Jake. After spending a semester away from tennis (study abroad in Morocco) and nursing an injury the past 4 weeks he finally finding his groove. Well done Jake! We also picked up wins at #1 doubles 8-6 (Phil/Zach) and #2 8-4 (Adam/Robert).


In singles Zach continued his high level of play winning 6-2, 6-1 at #1 singles. At one point Zach ripped off 8 straight winners! Chase was back in the line-up against LC and clinched the match with 6-3, 6-0 at #3 singles. We also got straight set wins from Robert at #4, Petar at #5, and Adam at #6. Fun fact Adam hasn’t lost a singles or doubles match yet this year! Another fun fact neither has Zach. Last match on (again) was Phil “I love 3 sets” Locklear – once again Phil found another gear to win 6-1 in the 3rd set. Two days in a row with dominate 3rd set wins from Phil! Yet another fun fact in the 1st set Phil had a set point and lost the set and in the 2nd set he was down a match point.


Next up for us are matches in Seattle and in Oregon. One group is going to travel to take on D1 Seattle U and another group is headed to the Willamette valley to play conference matches against Linfield and Willamette.


Here is a link to pictures from the George Fox Match