FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's tennis team continues a crucial conference week with two more matches on Saturday and Sunday. Hoping to rebound from a tough 4-2 loss to Sacramento State, the Lumberjacks will host Montana State on Saturday at 10 a.m. and Montana on Sunday at 12 p.m. for their final two home matches of the season at Continental Country Club.
While Saturday's match against Montana State will serve as the first half of an NAU tennis doubleheader, with the women's team taking on Montana State following the conclusion of the men's match, Sunday's match will serve as Senior Day for the Lumberjacks' two seniors, Robin Pezzutto and Ben Lantz.
Pezzutto, a native of New South Wales, Australia, is nearing the end of a prolific career here at NAU. He immediately made an impact, competing in 24 of 25 matches as a freshman in 2009, and posted an 8-15 singles record, while going 10-13 in doubles play. Although he recorded just eight singles win in his first collegiate season, he finished his first year with a bang, winning five of his last seven matches and was ahead in his Big Sky semifinal match against Montana's Felipe Raw when the Grizzlies clinched the overall team match.
He followed up his freshman campaign with a 13-7 singles record and 15-7 doubles record as a sophomore and then earned his first career All-Big Sky selection as he was named an honorable mention selection as a junior last season. This season, although Pezzutto is just 3-11 this season, he's won his last two matches and has lost seven matches in three-sets in his first season as the No. 1 player in the NAU lineup.
Even more impressively, Pezzutto is 20-8 in singles play and 19-8 in doubles play in his career against Big Sky opponents entering this weekend. He's also made a name for himself as a great altitude player, compiling a 16-1 singles record at home in his career, with his only loss coming as a freshman, and a 15-1 home doubles record as well.
"Rob brings a great work-ethic and attitude," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "The guys like hanging out with him. He leads by example and he's very coachable. He's been one of the best recruits to come through this program and he has such a crafty game that is going to be hard to replace."
While Pezzutto made an immediate impact, Lantz has become a major player for the Lumberjacks after initially joining the team as a walk-on. The Rockford, Ill. native played just four singles matches as a freshman, going 1-3 in those matches, and was winless in three doubles matches. Lantz would continue to have a limited role in his second year, again going 1-3 in singles play and was 0-1 in doubles.
However, his career took off last year as a junior when Lantz became a doubles specialist. Teaming with junior Patrick Schimmelbauer as the primary No. 3 doubles duo, Lantz recorded an 8-3 doubles record with Schimmelbauer and 8-4 overall, including 6-2 in Big Sky play. Lantz also doubled his career singles wins total with a 2-2 record in singles play and won both of his conference matches against Portland State and Idaho State at No. 6 singles.
This season, Lantz is 2-6 at No. 6 singles and recently defeated Justin Liss last week against Western Illinois, which was the first time he's played a school from his home state in his NAU career. He's also 4-5 in doubles play this season and with his three-match doubles winning streak earlier this season, he now has three doubles winning streaks of at least three or more matches.
"Ben has been a success story for NAU," Bruno said. "He came in, tried out for the team as a walk-on and got in the lineup a lot. He really proved himself as a player and he's grown tremendously as a tennis player over his four years and that's due to his unbelievable work ethic. He's one of the hardest workers on this team and one of the most focused and determined to get better, and it's going to be a great loss to lose that from our program."
Pezzutto and Lantz have also been stellar off the court. Pezzutto received his first Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete award last season and Lantz has been a Golden Eagle recipient each of his first three years, while also being named Big Sky All-Academic in 2011.
The Lumberjacks will look to send their two seniors out with two wins this weekend as the team looks to bolster their chances at qualifying for the Big Sky Championship tournament. Montana State and Montana are both currently undefeated in conference play although they've each played just one conference match so far this season. The Bobcats are led by Niklas Brandes, who has a 7-4 record at No. 1 singles, while the Grizzlies' top player has been Ethan Vaughn, who is 6-2 as the team's primary No. 5 singles player.
NAU has split their first two home matches this season, defeating Western Illinois and losing to Sacramento State and will need to win both matches this weekend to ensure a fourth straight winning record at home.
Both matches will be played at Continental Country Club and admission is free to all fans.