FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The 2017 season has officially started for the Northern Arizona University men's tennis team. The Lumberjacks are heading to Utah to take on No. 61 Brigham Young University and No. 72 University of Utah on Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 respectively.
Northern Arizona is coming off a third-place finish in conference last year and a great fall season. Director of Tennis Ki Kroll is excited to bring back a familiar, young and experienced roster, and is looking toward a winning season — starting with this weekend.
"Everyone has been working hard to prepare for our upcoming matches," said Kroll. "I feel like we are in a good place, and I'm excited to see how well we compete."
The Lumberjacks will start the weekend Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against No. 61 BYU, a school who is 2-0 against other Big Sky opponents since the start of the season. Kroll is confident that with the effort and hard work the men have had throughout the week, NAU will compete at a high level this weekend.
"Starting off with extremely good competition puts a lot of pressure on our players to really raise their level," said Kroll. "I believe they're all up for the challenge."
Northern Arizona will end the weekend against No. 72 Utah at 9 a.m. on Sunday. This weekend will prove to be a challenge, but there are high expectations for this group of Lumberjacks.
- The Lumberjacks finished the 2016 regular season in 3rd place behind Idaho and Weber State.
- As of Jan. 4, sophomore Tim Handel sits at No. 13 in the Mountain Regional singles rankings.
Match Day: Saturday, Feb. 4
Match Time: 5:30 p.m.
The Cougars are ranked No. 61 in the country and are currently 2-3 this season. A member of the West Coast Conference, BYU is already 2-0 against Big Sky opponents and undefeated at home. The cougars took on Idaho State and 2016 regular season champions Weber State in what were both 6-1 wins. Last time BYU faced the Lumberjacks it won 7-0.
BYU is coming off of a second-place finish in conference and an 18-7 overall season record. Led by head coach Brad Pearce, the Cougars lost two starters but returned six. BYU is on a three-match losing streak after competing against No. 18 Stanford, Harvard and Cornell.
Match Day: Sunday, Feb. 5
Match Time: 9 a.m.
The Utes have won three of their last four matches in 2017 and are 2-0 against Big Sky opponents Idaho State and Weber State. Like the Cougars, the Utes are also undefeated at home this season. Utah is coming off of a strong win against Denver, and will compete against them again before taking on the NAU Lumberjacks.
A member of the Pac-12 Conference, Utah is led by head coach Roeland Brateanu. Last season, the Utes went 17-9 overall before losing their first match in the Pac-12 Championships to Washington. Last time the Utes faced NAU it won 6-0.
Following this weekend, the Lumberjacks will head to Southern California to take on San Diego State and UC Irvine. Match time versus the SDSU Aztecs is set for 2:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10. Then on Sunday, Feb. 12, NAU is set to take on the UCI Anteaters at 11 a.m.
This fall, NAU competed in five tournaments at the University of Arizona, ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla., University of New Mexico, ITA Mountain Regionals in Las Vegas, Nev. and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Nearly all the Lumberjacks saw preseason action with standout sophomore Tim Handel leading in singles and pairing with transfer Sebastian Eguez in No. 1 doubles. The sophomore went into the ITA Mountain Regionals No. 17 and upped his ranking after his impressive run to the quarterfinals. Now ranked No. 13, Handel became the first athlete in school history to receive a singles ranking in men's tennis in at least 15 years. Felix Schumann and Lucas Taylor also proved ready for this season after winning more than a combined six singles wins. In doubles, Thomas Fisher paired with Handel and Adi Zilberstein for a combined seven wins.
"We have a very deep team this year, so I'm looking forward to season," said Kroll. "We are young and last year was a learning experience for us, but this year I know we are ready to take things to the next level, especially after the fall season we had."