WALLA WALLA, Wash. – It wasn’t easy, but Linfield moved one step closer to its first regular-season Northwest Conference championship in women’s tennis since 2008 with a 5-4 victory over Whitman Friday afternoon at the Bratton Tennis Center.
The No. 30 Wildcats (10-4, 10-0 NWC), the only team in the league undefeated in conference matches and ranked in the national poll, swept through all three doubles flights with relative ease. But the visitors had to stave off a spirited rally from the Missionaries (12-4, 7-2 NWC), who closed to within one point on two separate occasions.
With the 'Cats in front 4-3 and needing just one more point to win the match, Kiana Nip sealed the deal with a 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Emily Rolston at No. 5 singles.
Prior to that match-clinching victory, Whitman had drawn close with wins at Nos. 1 and 2 singles. Courtney Lawless, the fourth-ranked player in the West, struck first in the second flight, crushing Caroline Brigham (Sr., Eagle, Idaho) 6-1, 6-0. The region’s No. 3 netter, Alyssa Roberg, then defeated No. 5 Abby Olbrich by a score of 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1 singles.
Kaila Nip (Jr., Lahaina, Hawaii) momentarily held off the Whitman rally with her 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 win over Morgan Lawless at No. 3 singles.
But the Missionaries drew within one point yet again when Lizzy Schiller earned a 6-3, 6-3 decision over Kelly Watanabe (Jr., Kirkland, Wash.) in the sixth flight.
That set the stage for Kiana Nip, who came through in the clutch. Whitman earned one final point at No. 4 singles, where Kate Kunkel-Patterson outlasted Lexi Thomas in a long one, 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (9-7), 10-6.
With the Missionaries claiming four of six singles matches on the afternoon, the outcome would have been much different had Linfield not jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in doubles.
Olbrich and Brigham snapped a four-match losing skid with a hard-fought 8-6 victory over Roberg and Courtney Lawless. The Whitman pair had actually led 5-4 before the Wildcats rallied to claim the top-flight victory that featured two regionally-ranked tandems.
The Nip sisters toppled Rolston and Morgan Lawless at No. 2 doubles by a score of 8-4 while Thomas and Wanatabe coasted to an 8-2 win over Kunkel-Patterson and Sara Finkleman.
‘CAT SCRATCH: Snow and rain falling in Walla Walla forced the teams to move the match indoors…Roberg and Lawless have handed Olbrich and Brigham their only two singles losses, respectively, in conference play this season…Linfield has now won four straight matches against Whitman, including twice this year…the Wildcats also won on their home court by a score of 6-3 in February…the Missionaries’ last victory over the 'Cats was a 5-4 win back on April 16, 2010 in the semifinals of the NWC tournament.
NEXT: Linfield can clinch the regular-season title and right to host the conference tournament with a victory over Whitworth in Spokane Saturday morning. Doubles play kicks off at 10 a.m. The ‘Cats won the first matchup between the two clubs less than a month ago by a count of 7-2.
No. 5 win clinches match for 'Cats
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