For the 18th time in the 22 years of head coach Kathy LeSage‘s leadership, the Westmont women’s tennis team has qualified for the NAIA National Tournament. The Warriors will receive an at-large invitation as the result of a No. 12 ranking in the final national poll for the 2008 season.

“To accomplish our season goal of going to nationals is very exciting,” LeSage said. “It feels like it has been a while since we have been there, even though it was just two years ago. The fact that we weren’t on the bubble in the last part of the season helped us to gain confidence and feel like we earned it.”

Thirteen teams earn automatic qualification to the 24-team national tournament through regional competition, and one berth will be awarded to No. 25 Mobile as the host school. That leaves 10 at-large bids.

Westmont will be joined by five other Golden State Athletic Conference teams — No. 2 Fresno Pacific, No. 3 Azusa Pacific, No. 5 Vanguard, No. 6 California Baptist and No. 16 Point Loma Nazarene. Together, GSAC teams make up 25 percent of the championship field — the most of any conference and the most allowed under current NAIA rules.

“As a region, we hold our heads high,” LeSage said “We should have seven teams in the tournament but the rules won’t allow it. The dominance of California teams is wonderful and to be included in that dominance is great.

“However, I don’t think a California team will win the national championship,” she added. “We will kick out a lot of other states, but I don’t think anyone can touch top-ranked Auburn-Montgomery (Ala.). Still, I think all the California teams will win their first round and represent the region well.”

First-round play begins May 12, second-round play begins May 13, quarterfinals are May 14, semifinals May 15 and the championship May 16.

“I am looking forward to a first-round opponent from the Midwest that dominated their region. I don’t think those teams match up well with California teams,” LeSage said. “We really want to win that first round. In the second round, we will more than likely play a California team.”

Ron Smith is Westmont College‘s sports information director.