FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's tennis team faces a tall task this weekend with three road matches at Pacific, Sacramento State and Santa Clara Friday through Sunday in its final weekend of play before the team goes into the conference season with full force.
"We're playing three really tough schools and I just want the guys to go out there and play loose and really focus on what we've been working on in practice," said men's tennis assistant coach Joseph Heckley. "I want them to play like they have nothing to lose."
In order to snap their current five-match losing streak, the Lumberjacks (2-9 overall, 0-1 in Big Sky) will have to be at the top of their game against these three northern California squads who have a combined 19-14 record heading into the weekend. The Lumberjacks do have something to build on though after a promising 4-3 loss to UT-Arlington in their most recent match last Saturday.
Against UTA, the Lumberjacks were able to win the doubles point for the first time in a month dating back to their win over Western New Mexico on Feb. 3. Utilizing two new doubles pairings, the Lumberjacks got wins from senior Shaun Waters and sophomore Kester Black at No. 1 and senior Robert Martin and sophomore Trevor Unger at No. 3 to take the early advantage over the Mavericks. However, NAU fell just short in claiming victory on the day as only Waters and Black secured wins in singles play. Overall, the Lumberjacks have lost three matches by the narrowest margins at 4-3 over their five-match skid.
"One thing we've been working on all spring is our starts in doubles with intensity and aggressiveness and we really showed that against UT-Arlington winning the doubles point," Heckley said. "That set us up to win the match, but we were just a little short."
Black and Martin, who earned the team's only point in NAU's loss to New Mexico State last weekend, lead the team with four singles wins apiece. Waters, Schimmelbauer and junior Dominic Bermudez, who missed last weekend's matches, are right behind with three wins each this spring.
Pacific heads into the Friday's match coming off a 5-2 victory over Sacramento State a week ago. The Tigers are 6-4 and are adept at playing close matches with six of their matches ending in a 4-3 decision (4-2 record in such matches). Alex Golding began the season as the No. 13 ranked player in the ITA Northwest Region and was the Big West Player of the Week two weeks ago. Sam Verbeek is a two-time conference player of the week in his first collegiate season. The Lumberjacks are just 2-8 all-time against the Tigers and last defeated them in 2007.
Sacramento State, the four-time defending Big Sky champions, will be NAU's second conference opponent of the spring. The Hornets are 3-6 this spring and will be playing the Lumberjacks in the second half of their doubleheader on Saturday. They return a pair of 2012 All-Big Sky first team selections in Aliaksandr Malko and Marek Marksoo who serve as the team's No. 1 and 2 singles players. Together they are 6-2 at No. 1 doubles. Last year, the Hornets claimed a 4-2 victory over the Lumberjacks in Flagstaff to pick up their 20th win in 24 all-time meetings with NAU.
The Lumberjacks' last opponent of the weekend may be the toughest as Santa Clara currently owns a 10-4 record and are unbeaten in seven home matches in 2013. The Broncos began the season ranked No. 36 in the nation coming off a second round appearance in last year's NCAA Tournament and was ranked No. 53 last week. John Lamble, the Broncos' No. 1 player, is currently ranked No. 66 in the nation individually and has won his last six matches to push his spring record to 8-4. Lamble (No. 2) and Ilya Osintsev (No .17) were both ranked in the Northwest preseason top-20 rankings. This will be just the fourth meeting between the two schools and first since 1998. Santa Clara has won the last two meetings in 1997 and 1998 and leads 2-1 in the series.
The Lumberjacks will play Pacific and Sacramento State at 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday respectively. They will close out the weekend at Santa Clara on Sunday at 11 a.m.