FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's tennis team snapped its month and a half long skid last weekend with a dominant win at St. Cloud State, but also dropped its third critical Big Sky match at North Dakota. After a weekend that ended on a low note, the Lumberjacks will play host to a pair of conference matches for the first time this season in their confines in Flagstaff beginning with a crucial match against Eastern Washington on Thursday at Continental Country Club at 2 p.m.
Playing at home at 7,000 feet elevation may just be what the Lumberjacks need with four weeks remaining until the conference championships. The Lumberjacks have been tough to beat at high altitude over the last six years and they are 18-8 (.692 winning percentage) overall and 15-7 (.682) against Big Sky foes in Flagstaff.
"The altitude is going to be key because we practice in it everyday," said men's tennis assistant coach Joseph Heckley. "We're looking forward to getting some matches at home playing where they are accustomed to and getting some wins."
The Lumberjacks could use two wins this weekend as they are just one of two remaining teams in the conference, with the other being Southern Utah, winless in Big Sky play. However, at 3-13 overall and 0-3 within the conference, the Lumberjacks are just two wins out of sixth place with one of the two teams tied for sixth currently being Eastern Washington. The top six teams will qualify for the Big Sky Championship.
Although the Lumberjacks have come up empty in the win column in their first three conference matches, each match ended in a 4-3 decision against them including last Saturday at North Dakota. Furthermore in their last two conference losses, the Lumberjacks were within a win from clinching both matches as they led the four-time defending Big Sky champions Sacramento State, 3-1, and most recently led North Dakota, 3-0, before the opposition rallied for victories in both instances. With just seven conference matches remaining, five of which are at home, the Lumberjacks can ill-afford to let matches slip away if they hope to climb the standings and into the conference tournament.
"It's a huge week especially since we've had three tough 4-3 losses in our first three conference matches," Heckley said. "We haven't been playing bad, the ball just hasn't been rolling in our direction."
Seniors Robert Martin and Shaun Waters lead the Lumberjacks into Thursday's contest against Eastern Washington after posting perfect weekends this past weekend. Martin and Waters each won both of their singles and doubles matches against St. Cloud State and North Dakota. Martin leads the team with a 7-8 singles record and has equaled his win total from a year ago already while sophomore Kester Black is a win behind at 6-8. The Lumberjacks' doubles play has successfully rebounded from its slow start to the season as NAU has clinched the doubles point in three of its last four matches. The recent spark can be attributed to the play of NAU's No. 2 doubles team of senior Patrick Schimmelbauer and junior Dominic Bermudez who have won five consecutive matches and owns a team-best 6-1 mark.
Entering the week, Eastern Washington is 5-9 overall and 2-3 in the Big Sky. Although the Eagles have not competed since March 12, they will enter Thursday's match on the tail end of three matches in three days in three different states. They enter their grueling road trek this week winners of their last three matches. Joseph Cohen paces the Eagles at the No. 1 singles position with a 7-3 record and is the only player on the team with a perfect conference record at 3-0.
The Lumberjacks saw their three-match win streak over the Eagles come to an end last year as Eastern Washington posted a 5-2 win in Cheney, Wash. NAU still owns a 7-4 advantage all-time and has defeated Eastern Washington the last two times the teams played in Flagstaff.
The match will be played at Continental Country Club located at 2380 N. Oakmont Drive on the east side of Flagstaff. Attendance is free for all fans.
Live scoring for the match will be available here.