FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's tennis team returns to the court this weekend with a neutral-site match versus UC Riverside to be held at Scottsdale Community College. The Lumberjacks, 2-4 on the season after their doubleheader split in Albuquerque, N.M. two weeks ago, will play the Highlanders at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
"UC schools are always pretty tough," said men's assistant tennis coach Joseph Heckley. "I'm excited to see how we play. We worked on a lot of stuff in doubles and singles over the week we had off and it was good for us to prepare for this tough UC Riverside match on Saturday."
Coming off a difficult 6-16 season in 2012, the Lumberjacks have rebounded nicely early in 2013 despite their 2-4 record. Three of their four losses have come at the hands of tough regional foes – one of them being nationally-ranked No. 63 New Mexico – and the fourth was to Arizona in the team's season-opener. Still, the Lumberjacks have displayed a team depth that they did not have a year ago and have been particularly strong in doubles.
Getting off to a good start will be a key for NAU as it continues to move forward in the spring. Dating back to the start of last season, the Lumberjacks are 8-1 – 2-0 this season – when claiming the doubles point to begin the match. In matches where they've dropped the doubles point, the Lumberjacks have yet to win the team score in 18 total matches. But this season, NAU is being led by the senior Australian duo of Robert Martin and Shaun Waters, who have stepped up as the team's No. 1 doubles team. Playing the opponent's best doubles team to offer, Martin and Waters thus far leads the Big Sky with four wins, the most of any individual doubles pair in the conference.
"It's all about chemistry and finding the right partner," Heckley said. "The chemistry that Shaun and Rob have, the chemistry that Dom (Bermudez) and Pat (Schimmelbauer) have is great. We're mixing things up at No. 3 doubles and we'll see how that fares. The one thing I touched on with the team is our starts and they're mindful of that. That's going to help us against Riverside and the rest of the spring season."
Senior Patrick Schimmelbauer, junior Dominic Bermudez and Martin each have two singles wins to their name to lead the Lumberjacks. Martin and Schimmelbauer posted victories in the team's last match, a 4-2 win over Western New Mexico on Feb. 3, while sophomore Kester Black's first win at NAU clinched the match for the Lumberjacks.
The Highlanders are 1-6 this season following a narrow 4-3 loss to UC San Diego at home on Tuesday. Seven different players have recorded a singles victory for UC Riverside this season with Marcus Vizcarro leading the way with two wins. Julian Ruffin and Calvin Ngo is the team's leading doubles team with a 2-3 record.
NAU defeated UC Riverside, 5-2, last season on the Highlanders' home court. NAU won at No. 2 and 3 doubles to clinch the doubles point and the Lumberjacks' claimed victories at the No. 3-6 singles positions en route to the win. The Lumberjacks are 5-2 all-time against the Highlanders, including wins in each of the last two seasons.