Swarthmore weekend

Jeff Northam - Wednesday, March 09, 2016


This past weekend the men’s team was fortunate to host Swarthmore, Cal Lutheran, and Lewis Clark. It’s fun to host teams that have never been to the PNW, or in some cases, never played tennis indoors. I also try to make this trip as easy and convenient for the visiting coaches and players. I know first hand the hassles of traveling with a team – it can take forever to get a van rental at the airport, the time spent traveling to and from the match sites, the pains of getting an entire team loaded into a cramped van to find food. So I make it easy. Teams can fly into Walla Walla or Pasco (50 mins away) and I pick them up in a Whitman turtle top van and take them to the Red Lion Hotel. The Red Lion has been wonderful to work with during these types of events, they give us special pricing and best of all they are located across the street from the indoor tennis courts. Also since Whitman is located next to downtown there are dozens of great restaurants within a two block walk. I think it’s awesome that a team can come to town and not need any kind of transportation.


To make this year’s event even more special we roasted a pig courtside and provided dinner Saturday for all the teams. Thanks to Tim and Nelou Fennessy for providing and cooking the pig! Makes for a nice touch to an already wonderful weekend.


Our first match of the weekend was against Cal Lutheran. As with most of the season we have been playing around with doubles combos and positions trying to find the best possible line-up. The guys have been great dealing with my tinkering. Every weekend of play I have tried new combos and/or move teams around in the line-up. So far it’s worked great as more guys get the opportunity to play and guys get the opportunity to play with different players. This is something different that I have done this year and its worked great and the guys have jumped on board with the strategy.


Earlier in the week I had decided to pull our undefeated #1 doubles team (Zach and Phil) to see how Petar/Jake would respond to playing #1 and also to see how Chase/Gary would do at #3. Funny story is I thought I had told both Zach and Phil my plans but forgot to actually tell Phil. So Phil shows up Saturday ready to go at doubles only to find out he has been benched. Phil just gave me a wry smile and a chuckle ... pretty hard to be undefeated in doubles for the ENTIRE year including wins against 2 D1 opponents only be benched against a good team!


The doubles switch had nothing to do with Phil/Zach but everything to do with Petar/Jake. In the couple matches they played together they looked good and I wanted to see how they would respond playing #1 against a good team. For perspective Jake/Petar had played twice before in the year: against George Fox (#2 doubles) they went down 0-2 before winning 8 straight games then the following day beat a good Lewis Clark team 8-0 (meaning they had actually won 16 straight games together which is REALLY hard to do in doubles). Against Cal Lu the duo raised their level of play winning 8-1! Great stuff from both of them and I absolutely love how well the complement each other on the court. Our other doubles teams weren’t far behind as Robert/Adam won 8-2 at #2 doubles, and Chase/Gary won 8-3 at #3. After the doubles Phil came up to me and gave that same wry smile and said it looks like he and Zach lost their doubles spot.


In singles we continued to roll. Even without Robert in the singles line-up (I pulled him after the doubles) we didn’t drop a set…check out these scores:

#1 Zach 62, 61, #2 Phil 63, 60, #3 Chase 62, 60, #4 Petar 62, 62, #5 Adam 62, 61 #6 Gary 62, 61


Whitman 9 Cal Lu 0

Sunday was the big match of the weekend as we matched up with #30 Swarthmore. We knew this was a very good and very talented team. A week prior they narrowly lost 4-5 to #20 Stevens Tech. This match came down to the wire with the #6 singles going to 3 sets. All week Coach Colton had been preaching that this was a trap match and the team needed to be prepared for a tough match.

Luckily we came out with some strong doubles to sweep Swarthmore gaining a 3-0 advantage. At #1 Phil/Zach bounced back after “the benching” to win 8-5. Even though they didn’t play their best tennis it’s amazing how these two compete and work with each other to overcome difficult situations. At #2 Petar/Jake continued their strong play winning 8-1. Just let me say these two are playing well. And at #3 Robert/Adam were up 7-2 before closing out the match 8-4.


I mentioned it was fortunate that we swept the doubles and it was also fortunate that we played outdoors so we could play on 6 courts (versus 4 courts indoors). The top 4 singles matches were all battles and we dropped the 1st sets at #1, #2, #3, and #4! Fortunately for us both Robert and Adam won in straight sets to give us the 5-0 win.


The top 4 matches turned out to be fantastic matches. At #1 Zach dropped the 1st set 1-6 before rebounding to win 6-3, 6-4. Very good win for Zach as his opponent recently defeated the #10 player in D3. At #2 Phil had an incredibly streaky match – he was up 5-1 before dropping the set 5-7 and then he won the 2nd set 6-1, and since the team match was done they played a match tiebreak which Phil dropped 11-9. Interesting match because Phil played some of his best tennis of the year but just couldn’t close out the first set. At #3 Chase really showed great composure. After dropping the 1st set and I think being down in the 2nd he rallied to win 4-6, 7-5, 10-4. At #4 Petar had the longest first set of any of the matches. In fact, his first set was still going by the time #5 and #6 had finished! Great battle from Petar - he lost 7-6, 6-3


One other note from the match. Since Swarthmore brought 12 players we were fortunate to be able to play 6 doubles matches and 12 singles matches. Over all in the 6 doubles matches we won 5 of them. And in the bottom 6 matches we took the top 3 matches (Gary, Nishaant, Alex) and lost the bottom 3 (Trevor, Jacob, Azur).


Whitman 7 Swarthmore 2


This was certainly an important match for us to get through. I thought we played well against a good team that had their sights set on defeating us. Also one of those matches where we don’t have much to gain but a lot to lose (in terms of rankings).


Splitting the Squad

Jeff Northam - Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Very interesting, and very fun weekend splitting the team into two squads. One part of the team traveled to Seattle to take on Seattle U (D1) while the other group traveled to the Willamette Valley for conference matches against Willamette and Linfield.

One reason the weekend was so awesome was our housing for the weekend. The Seattle troupe stayed with the La Cava’s in Seattle and the Willamette Valley crew stayed with Tom and Krista Herkamp. Both the families were unbelievable hosts and we all had a blast staying together in incredible homes. So to the La Cava’s and Herkamp’s THANK YOU SO MUCH!


I can’t speak about the Seattle match as I was with the Willamette group (perhaps Coach Colton can do a write up). What I do know it was an incredibly close and well played match. Even though we came away with a 3-4 loss all the guys felt it was a great experience and quality tennis. This match came down to the wire with the final two matches going to third sets. It was one of those days where a point here or there decided the outcome of the entire match. Was also great to have such a huge turn of alumni for the match. And thanks to P.R. and Vince for organizing the post-match activities! Greatly appreciated by all.


The same day as the Seattle U match I had a group playing against Willamette. One of my goals for the Willamette Valley group was to make sure everyone got opportunities to play. We have a large team with guys who consistently bust their butts in practice and conditioning, unfortunately these guys don’t get enough opportunities to play. Sometimes I wish for the opportunities to sub players in and out of a match like other team sports. However, Saturday was one of those rare days where all 15 players got to compete!


Against Willamette we swept the doubles but it wasn’t without drama as the #2 team of Luke/Alex couldn’t quite shake the pesky Willamette team. This match went back and forth with breaks but eventually Luke/Alex were able to prevail 8-6. Adam/Gary won 8-3 at #1 and Jacob/Joey won 8-1 at #3.


In singles we got quick wins at #1 Adam (6-1, 6-3), #2 Gary (6-3, 6-0), #3 Nishaant (6-1, 6-2) and #5 Jacob (6-3, 6-4 – ok this one wasn’t too quick). All great wins but matches of the day went to #4 Trevor and #6 Azur. I’m so impressed with Trevor’s improvement. As a freshman Trevor had a tendency to very hard on himself. Last year I think he had the personal motto of “my own worst enemy”. Let me say what a fantastic change a year as brought. It’s so gratifying to see him smile on the court and play upbeat tennis. Case in point, Trevor lost the first set 3-6 against a red hot Willamette player. His opponent played lights out in that first set. At the set break I spoke with Trevor about the set and he told me that his opponent played great and it was only 1 break of serve. Last year, in the same situation, Trevor would be told me how bad he was playing and put extra pressure on himself to play better this set. This time Trevor had a smile on his face after losing the first set, was truly enjoying the competition and had confidence in himself to grind out the match. I’m so impressed with him! In the second set Trevor raced out to a 4-1 lead and ended up winning the match 3-6, 6-2, 10-6. Trevor, well done!


The other interesting match was first year Azur Ali playing in his first ever dual match. I’ve coached long enough to know that a first dual match is not only a big deal but also a nervous deal! I’ve seen many a young player get the yips in their first match. Although incredibly nervous Azur did great! In fact, he played some of his best tennis of the year winning 6-3, 6-3.


On Sunday weather didn’t cooperate and we were forced into the Linfield fieldhouse (3 courts) for our 10am match. Like the Willamette match I wanted to play all 9-players but mixed up who played singles and doubles.


We started off the match in strong fashion only dropping 6 games in the 3 doubles pro-sets (8-0, 8-2, 8-4). In singles the guys played well not dropping a set the entire day. Luke had the most competitive match of the day winning 6-4, 6-3 after being down 1-4 in the 1st . Azur was even more impressive in the second match of his career, winning 6-1, 6-2 – in this match he won the 1st 13 points! In practice Azur has a tendency to swing for the fences and try to finish points way too fast and way too big. Against Linfield he was the model of consistency, he was patient from the baseline and when he did get opportunities he didn’t try to paint the line with hardest hit ball known to mankind, instead he was played to big targets with a well-shaped ball. True story, Joey is playing next to Azur and on a changeover he leans over to me and asked what happened to Azur. He said he is like a new player and that he should play that way in practice. Joey I couldn’t agree more!


Here are the scores against Linfield.

#1 doubles Gary/Adam 8-0

#2 doubles Trevor/Nishaant 8-2

#3 doubles Jacob/Joey 8-4

#1 Adam 6-1, 6-1

#2 Gary 6-3, 6-2

#3 Alex 6-0, 6-1

#4 Joey 6-1, 6-2

#5 Luke 6-4, 6-3

#6 Azur 6-1, 6-2


Thanks to all the parents who came out to the matches. I speak for all entire team when I say we appreciate your support and it’s so nice to be loaded up with bags of fruit, cookies and treatsJ


Couple nice awards this week. Adam was named NWC Player of the Week. Also Azur was voted the yellow jersey by his teammates.

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


Hogwarts and the matches against Idaho and LCSC

Jeff Northam - Sunday, February 14, 2016

The start of the season, finally! After weeks of practicing and playing against teammates we were able to start the season with a road trip to Lewiston to take on the D1 Idaho Vandals and NAIA perennial power LCSC Warriors.


With a two-hour drive and back-to-back matches in the LCSC 4-court facility we knew it was going to be a long day. So Coach Colton (or should I say chef Colton) and I spent the prior day getting food ready for the trip. Given the timing of the matches it wasn’t going to be possible to take 17 people out for a “quick” lunch. Plus, we could prepare a healthier and better lunch than something we could quickly find on the road. With the help of some cast iron, a high output gas burner and my trustee traeger grill we prepared the fixings for flank steak and/or chicken tortas. Add in some torta bread the size of dinner plates (from John’s Wheatland Bakery), freshly sliced tomatoes, guacamole, and other sandwich fixings we prepared a feast! Might be time for C.J. (Colton and Jeff) sandwich shop to go into business!


We started Saturday against a very strong Idaho team. Last year Idaho won the Big Sky conference earning a trip to the NCAA tournament. This year they are a better team adding a solid #6 player.

Even though the score shows a 2-5 loss we played the Vandals pretty close. In doubles Phil/Zach came back from a break down at 4-5 to rip off three straight games to win 7-5. Though I didn’t see the match the quote of day comes from the Vandal #1 doubles player Jackson Varney who yelled out “What is this Hogwarts tennis” after Phil nailed an inside out backhand return.


Idaho controlled #2 doubles from start to finish winning 6-1 putting the doubles points in the hands of #3 Carter/Ho. The Missionary boys played the Vandals dead even until getting broke at 5-6. In the 5-6 game the Vandals performed real “Hogwarts Tennis” hitting 1 outright return winner and 2 net cord returns that proved impossible to handle. Clearly the Vandals used “Depulso” charm to great advantage.


Great stuff in singles from Zach and Adam both winning in straight sets. Many of the other singles matches were close – at #2 Phil served for the 2nd set but lost 6-3, 7-5, at #3 Chase lost 7-6 6-2 and was the unfortunate victim of some no-add games, and at #5 Petar lost in 3 sets.


Really a great start opening match for us. Happy with how we played and competed up and down the line-up.


Whitman 2 Idaho 5


The nightcap match was one that I was especially keen on watching. Our lineup consisted of the guys that didn’t get a chance to play against Idaho. It’s not often that some of these players get a chance to play a team match against such a quality opponent (LCSC is very good – they also lost to Idaho 2-5 but in that match lost 2 three set matches). So what a great opportunity and experience for all these men.


Doubles was a treat to watch. At #1 Petar/Adam (who are really playing well as a team) won with a wire-to-wire 6-4 match. Our struggles at #2 doubles continued as Trevor/Nishaant lost 6-2 (for those counting we only won three games at #2 doubles yesterday). Just like the Idaho match the doubles point came down to 3 doubles. And this match turned out to be a rollercoaster ride! Alex served for the match at 5-4 and was up 40-15 when the LCSC team turned the tables and ran out three straight points to break (no add scoring). After a hold by LCSC and Jacob the match went to tiebreak with the Whitties racing out to a quick lead. However, the LCSC team refused to go quietly into the night and saved another couple match points before succumbing 8-6 in the tiebreaker.


Singles was not kind to us as the Warriors won 5 of the singles matches in straight sets. However, the match of the day went to first year Nishaant Liyame who fought off first match nerves (and the effects of a Colloshoo hex) to play one of the longest match tiebreaks I have seen. Unfortunately for Nishaant he lost 18-16 in the 3rd set match break but it was a blast to watch. His teammates were screaming and yelling their support doing everything they could to will the young Nishaant to victory – they locked arms on the sidelines, they changed positions on the sidelines, they performed different claps…anything to help their teammate (what can I say tennis players can be a superstition lot). Nishaant was also trying everything he could to win the match -- long rallies, serve and volley, attack the backhand, attack the forehand and at one point in the tiebreak Nishaant even tried the tricky Finite Incantatem spell in an effort to ward off the Colloshoo hex but the complexity of this spell was too great for him to pull off.


Certainly a long day for all… having breakfast at 930am and not getting home until midnight. But was a GREAT and fun start to the year.


Whitman 1 LCSC 6


Special thanks to for a major assist in helping with this post.


I need to get back in the photography flow but I did take a few pictures which can be found here.