FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – With the regular season winding down and a spot in the Big Sky Championship already secured, Northern Arizona (10-4, 5-0 BSC) looks to stay hot with a pair of Big Sky matches and two non-conference tilts on four consecutive days this weekend in Washington and Oregon. The Lumberjacks will start the trip at Washington State (9-11) on Friday, play a Big Sky match at Eastern Washington (10-8, 4-2 BSC) on Saturday, battle Gonzaga (12-4) on Sunday, and finish up their 2010 road schedule at Portland State (2-14, 0-5 BSC) on Monday.
With a pair of Big Sky wins last weekend at Weber State and Idaho State, Northern Arizona improved to 5-0 in the Big Sky and clinched a birth in the four-team Big Sky Championship. Sacramento State and Montana have also clinched, as three of the four teams that will play in the postseason tournament have been determined. If the Lumberjacks can defeat both Eastern Washington and Portland State this weekend they would equal No. 49 Sacramento State's league-best record of 7-0 and set up a match for the regular-season championship when the teams meet to close the regular season in Flagstaff on April 17. The two teams have met in the Big Sky Championship final in each of the last-four seasons and appear destined to battle for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament again this season.
The Lumberjacks had a five-match winning streak halted on Monday at Utah State but have still won nine of their last 11 matches. Two impressive singles streaks continued through last weekend, as freshman Nicole Perez and junior Yumi Hasegawa are each riding 10-match winning streaks in singles play. Perez started the season 0-4 and has won 10 straight matches since, while Hasegawa's streak has tied her with freshman Malia Wahinepio for the team-lead in wins with 11. Wahinepio and juniors Edit Suhajda and Orsi Golovics all have 8-2 records in their last-10 matches, as NAU has combined to go 58-26 in singles this season with a 24-6 mark in conference matches.
Scouting Washington State
The Cougars represent the second opponent for Northern Arizona this season from the formidable Pac-10 conference (Arizona). Washington State has lost six of its last seven matches, with the only win coming against Portland State. They lost, 5-2, to Sacramento State earlier this season but defeated Arizona, 6-1, in Pullman in early March and have wins over Big Sky schools Eastern Washington and Montana State. The team is led by star freshman Liudmila Vasilieva, currently ranked No. 94 in the country in singles play.
Washington State will host No. 11 Stanford on Thursday before facing NAU on Friday as part of a season-ending six-match homestand. Northern Arizona is 0-4 all-time against the Cougars, though the teams have not met since 1998.
Scouting Eastern Washington
Picked to finish sixth in the Big Sky preseason coaches poll, Eastern Washington currently sits in fourth place in the conference with a 4-2 Big Sky record. The Eagles will host NAU and Gonzaga this weekend and play one more conference match on the road at Montana State, hoping to remain in fourth place and reach the Big Sky Championship. The Eagles have won six of their last eight matches overall and are 7-3 at home for the season. Sophomore Caitlin Bampton and senior Marie Demerath lead the team at the top-two singles positions.
The Lumberjacks are 10-1 all-time against Eastern Washington, with their only loss coming in the first-ever meeting between the teams in 1988.
Gonzaga has won five-straight matches to put its season record at 12-4. The Bulldogs have already gone 4-0 against teams from the Big Sky and are 5-1 at home for the season. They will play at Washington State on Saturday before retuning home to host NAU in their home finale on Sunday. The Bulldogs are a combined 63-33 in singles play this season, led at No. 1 by junior Rika Mehndiratta.
Northern Arizona has never lost to Gonzaga in three all-time matches. The teams last met in Spokane in 2006.
Scouting Portland State
The Vikings are winless in conference play at 0-5 and are just 2-14 for the season. Their two wins are against non-Division-I teams (Lewis & Clark, Southern Oregon). Furthermore, their 14 losses to Division-I teams are all 7-0 defeats, as the team is winless in 84 singles matches played against Division-I opposition. They are 0-30 in Big Sky singles matches and 1-14 in conference doubles play, picking up a doubles win against Montana State.
NAU is 9-0 all-time against Portland State including a 7-0 win in Flagstaff last season.