FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona University Men's Tennis team is coming off of two straight wins and heading into their first two Big Sky conference matches this weekend. After beating Air Force 5-2 and sweeping Seattle University 7-0, the Lumberjacks will face Montana and Montana State. Northern Arizona is 3-4 overall and ready to start conference.
"It's always important to get a few wins under your belt, so we hope to get off to a strong start against two very tough teams," said Director of Tennis Ki Kroll.
Northern Arizona has made continued progress since the beginning of season and is looking forward to finally start competing in the Big Sky. As the only team without any conference matches so far this season, this weekend will prove extremely important as far as standings. NAU was picked to finish sixth behind Idaho, Weber State and Sacramento State in the preseason poll. With one first-place point and after finishing in third last season, the Lumberjacks are aiming high this year.
Last year, the Lumberjacks went 8-3 in the Big Sky and beat Montana 5-2 and Montana State 6-1 in the regular season. The Lumberjacks will start this weekend against the Montana Grizzlies Saturday, March 4 at 10 a.m. The Grizzlies are currently 2-1 in conference after beating Southern Utah 7-0 and North Dakota 6-1 and losing to Northern Colorado 2-5. The 'Jacks will also take on the Montana State Bobcats, who they beat 4-0 in the Big Sky Conference tournament quarterfinal. NAU faces the Bobcats on Sunday, March 5 at 10 a.m.
- 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.
- On March 1, sophomore Lucas Taylor was the first NAU men's tennis player named Big Sky Player of the Week in the 2017 season.
Match Day: Saturday, March 4
Match Time: 10:00 a.m.
Match Location: Missoula, Mont.
The Grizzlies are going into the match 5-2 overall and coming off a 7-0 sweep over Southern Utah. Montana has won two straight matches, first over Montana State and then over Southern Utah. The Grizzlies are now 2-1 in conference and are undefeated at home.
A member of the Big Sky Conference, Montana is led by head coach Kris Nord. Last season, Montana tied with Northern Arizona in third after going 9-8 overall. Following the match against the Lumberjacks, the Grizzlies will take on Radford, Monday, March 6 at home.
Match Day: Sunday, March 5
Match Time: 10:00 a.m.
Match Location: Bozeman, Mont.
The Bobcats are 2-7 overall and on a three-match losing streak. Montana State dropped a 1-6 loss to BYU, a 0-4 loss to Utah and is coming off a 1-6 loss to Montana. Going into the match against the Lumberjacks, Montana State is 1-0 in conference over North Dakota. Last time these two teams matched up, they were fighting for a chance at the championship in the conference tournament where NAU won 4-0 in the quarterfinals. Before facing the 'Jacks, Montana State will take on Southern Utah Saturday, March 4. The Bobcats are led by head coach Jared Burnham.
The Lumberjacks face a five-match week starting Sunday, March 12 against UNLV at noon. Tuesday, March 14, the Lumberjacks will travel to compete against New Mexico at 11 a.m. The 'Jacks will start off on the road with those two matches before competing in their season's home opener against Idaho March 16 at 10 a.m. The following day, Northern Arizona will compete in a double header at home against UC Riverside at 10 a.m. and Southern Utah at 2 p.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."