Women take first again for seventh year
The men’s tennis team took third for the fifth season in a row, while the women’s team won its seventh straight Northwest Conference title.
After defeating Whitman College on April 18, the women’s team beat Whitworth University, 5-4, to win the NWC championship on April 19.
The men’s team beat University of Puget Sound to advance to the second round and then lost to Pacific Lutheran University, 5-4, to knock them out of title contention. In a fight for third and fourth place, Linfield beat Willamette University to take third.
The women’s first-place title gives them the only guaranteed ticket to the NCAA Division III regional championship that will be held May 2 to 4.
The women’s team earned the luxury of a first-round bye thanks to its No. 1 seed. They awaited the winner of the Whitman-Willamette matchup in the first round.
“The only benefit to the first-round bye is that we were fresh for the semi-final round,” senior Kasey Kuenzli said. “Whitman had played in the first round that morning, so we knew we would have fresher legs than them, and we used that to our advantage.”
The championship match pitted the region’s No. 9- and No. 10-seed teams against each other to decide who will earn the chance to compete for the guaranteed regional spot alongside Linfield. Whitworth beat Pacific Lutheran to take its position in the championship match.
Linfield had the momentum early, winning the first three singles matches.
However, Whitworth was able to make a push, and won the last three matches to tie things up. The championship came down to the doubles matches.
Kuenzli and sophomore Sallie Katter started things off with an 8-3 win. Whitworth would need the next match to have a chance.
Seniors Kelli Sides and Molly Nelson weren’t accommodating to Whitworth’s sophomore Rachel Burns and junior Justine Hays, and won 8-5, to clinch the championship. Nelson was able to come back from her singles loss in the fifth singles match when Hays beat her in three sets. The win gave the ’Cats another undefeated season.
The men’s team went into the NWC championships with the third seed. They drew sixth-seeded UPS, which the ’Cats defeated twice earlier in the season. With a shot at the title on the line, the ’Cats beat the Loggers, 7-2, giving them the season sweep and advancing them into the second round.
The Loggers only managed one win in the singles and doubles matches.
The ’Cats had to go head-to-head with defending NWC champion Pacific Lutheran in the second round shortly after defeating UPS. The Lutes won the first four singles matches before freshman Mark Magdaong managed to win Linfield’s first match over Lute Troy Silvestrin. The Wildcats knew they had to battle strong to get back into the contest in the doubles matches.
“Since we had almost beaten them the week before, we had a great amount of confidence going into our semi-final matchup with PLU,” senior Wes Gabrielsen said. “We knew that if we won at least two of three doubles, then we only had to win three of our six singles matches. However, they played some great singles and beat us at the top four singles spots in our line-up. We can only tip our hats off to them for playing a great match.”
With the contest on the line, PLU put an early end to the ’Cats’ title hopes after sophomore Kevin Floyd and senior Justin Larimore defeated Linfield junior Nick Ruess and sophomore Kyle Anderson in the first doubles match. Linfield was able to finish strong, taking the last two matches to push the final score to 5-4.
“I think (being the defending champions) gave them some confidence,” Gabrielsen said. “But I think we had them worried after taking a 2-1 lead after doubles. Most of their players were on last year’s championship team, which gave them the confidence to perform well in pressure situations.”
The men finished the year 13-6 in the NWC and 14-10 overall, giving them the No. 12 ranking in the region. With the team competition complete, freshman Brent Kingzett, Gabrielson, Ruess and Anderson will travel to Ojai, Calif., on April 25 to 27 to compete in the Ojai Championship in hopes of earning a ticket to nationals.
The women’s team is focusing its collective efforts on the regional tournament, where it will play for a shot at nationals.
“The regional (championship) is going to have some tough teams,” Kuenzli said. “Our goal is to stay within ourselves and make sure we do the best we can. We are capable of playing with all of these teams and it will take a lot of teamwork.”