SPOKANE, Wash. – The quest of the Pirate tennis team is to slay the giant. Or at least knock him out. That is the challenge as Whitworth takes on highly-ranked Whitman in the opening round of the 2012 Northwest Conference Tournament on Saturday morning at 10:00 am in Walla Walla.
The top-seeded Missionaries are the host school after winning the 2012 regular season conference championship. Whitworth is the #4 seed. Pacific (#2) and George Fox (#3) will play in Saturday's other semifinal match at 2:00 pm. The winners meet in Sunday's championship match to play for the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Bucs know that the challenge will be great. Whitman is ranked #1 in the west region and 8th in the nation. The Missionaries have won 90 matches in a row against NWC opponents. Conor Holton-Burke, who was the NWC Player of the Year in 2011, has often been playing #2 or #3 for Whitman this season.
Head coach Mike Shanks and the Pirates are well aware of the challenge. But they are excited about it as well.
"We obviously have our work cut out for us," Shanks said. "Their team is not only very talented but incredibly deep. Winning sets is our first goal. We know we are a sizable underdog. That makes this adventure extremely exciting."
Whitworth played Whitman only once during the regular season and the Missionaries came away with a 9-0 victory in Walla Walla on March 31st without losing a set. But the one thing that the two teams have in common is that they are the only two conference schools to have played in all 14 NWC tournaments since the league went to a team championship format in 1999.
Whitworth lost 8-1 at Pacific early in the season on March 3rd. The Pirates fell to George Fox twice, losing 7-2 in Newberg, Oregon on March 9th and 5-4 in Spokane on April 14th.
Senior Daniel Redfern and junior Cameron Williams lead the Pirates into the match. Redfern has a 13-6 singles record in 2012, all at #1 on the ladder, and he is 8-4 against conference opponents. Williams is 8-8 this season, but 7-4 against NWC foes at #2 on the singles ladder. Ben Hamming (10-6) and John Talbot (8-6) also have winning singles records for the Bucs.