FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The push towards a conference tournament berth begins this weekend as the Northern Arizona men's tennis team returns to action following a much-needed break from competition last week. The Lumberjacks (2-12 overall, 0-2 in the Big Sky) will make the trek out on their longest road trip of the season when they play St. Cloud State and conference foe North Dakota on Friday and Saturday respectively revitalized and ready to go.
"Last week was definitely good for the guys," said men's tennis assistant coach Joseph Heckley. "The last month and a half has been match after match after match, so it was a good break for the guys before we get back at it for the rest of the season beginning this weekend."
Although the Lumberjacks saw their losing streak extend to eight matches the last time they were in action, there was a lot to takeaway heading into their final bye week of the spring. Most notably was NAU's narrow 4-3 defeat to Sacramento State, the four-time defending Big Sky champions and favorite to win the conference again in 2013, in Sacramento. In that match, the Lumberjacks were just one win away from upsetting the Hornets with a 3-1 advantage on the scoreboard, but the Hornets rallied to deny the Lumberjacks of the victory.
The Lumberjacks also fell to Pacific and Santa Clara two weeks ago during a three-match stint in northern California, but a trio of players picked up impressive victories in the two losses. Senior Patrick Schimmelbauer notched the team's only point against Pacific with a win at No. 2 singles over Alex Golding, who was the No. 13 ranked player in the Northwest region. Two days later, sophomores Kester Black and Trevor Unger won in dominating fashion at the No. 5 and 6 singles positions over their opponents from Santa Clara, who began the season ranked No. 36 in the nation and was ranked No. 53 the week prior to their match with NAU. Black dropped just three games in his straight-set win at No. 5, 6-1, 6-2, while Unger won his first singles match of the year with a convincing 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 6.
"We played some tough competition in California, but we really competed with Pacific and Santa Clara and then had opportunities to beat the four-time defending Big Sky Conference champions," Heckley said. "Even though we lost, there were a lot of good things to take away. We really wanted to focus on our starts and we definitely improved on that."
With Black and senior Robert Martin leading the way with five singles wins apiece and improved doubles play of late with doubles point wins in two of their last four contests, the Lumberjacks look to snap their skid this weekend. A key will be pulling out a tight match in their favor as four of their eight losses during their current losing streak have come by the narrowest margin at 4-3.
St. Cloud State is 4-9 this spring and has lost six of its last seven matches after a 3-3 start to its season. The Huskies are led by their top-two singles player in Tyler Hjalmquist and Jordan Peterson. Hjalmquist is 6-6 on the season as the No. 1 player and Peterson is 5-8 with all but one of his matches coming at No. 2. The two teams have met just twice before in 1988 and 1989, both of which NAU won 8-1.
The Lumberjacks will then wrap up their weekend with their first-ever meeting with North Dakota, who is in its first season as a member of the Big Sky Conference. UND in fact is fielding its first men's tennis team since the 1989-1990 season. North Dakota has had a rough inaugural season in the Big Sky thus far as it is just 1-7 overall and winless in its first four conference matches. Grant Bakke owns a team-best 4-3 singles record between the No. 5 and 6 spots, while the tandem of Connor Oberle and Josh Oothoudt paces UND's doubles pairs with a 3-3 mark at No. 1.
The Lumberjacks will play St. Cloud State at its home facility in Sartell, Minn. at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. They will then travel to Grand Forks, N.D. to play North Dakota at 7 a.m. on Saturday.
Media Guide: The 2012-13 NAU Tennis media guide is now available as a PDF or digitally. The media guide contains bios for the players and coaches; a 2011-12 review for both the men's and women's teams; a season outlook for both squads and all-time letterwinners and All-Big Sky selections.