FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The quest to snap Sacramento State's 10-year hold on the Big Sky Conference begins Friday for the Northern Arizona women's tennis team when they open their 2012 season in a neutral site match against No. 59 UC Davis in Tempe. The Lumberjacks are coming off a 13-10 season in 2011, where they lost to the Hornets for the sixth-consecutive year in the Big Sky Conference final.
"With just a week of practice under our belt, it's going to be a real test especially since we're playing UC Davis," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "They're a great program that has gotten better over the years. I expect a nail biter and it'll be interesting to see how we stack up against them."
The Lumberjacks will have to replace four graduating seniors who combined for 11 All-Big Sky selections between them over the last four years. Bruno does return four returnees though, including two returning starters in juniors Malia Wahinepio and Nicole Perez. Wahinepio was a second team All-Big Sky selection last year and posted a 14-9 record as the team's primary No. 4 singles player. Perez split time at both the No. 5 and 6 singles spots in 2011, going 9-8 during the season. Also back from last year's squad are juniors Ghizelene Doballah and Alice Walker. Doballah is projected to make her NAU debut on Friday after redshirting last season, while Walker brings experience to the Lumberjack lineup.
The four returning players will be joined by four newcomers, two transfers and two freshmen, to round out the Lumberjack roster. Juniors Alice Pacaut and Vanessa Green transfer into the NAU program following successful seasons at Stephen F. Austin and Glendale Community College respectively, in addition to freshmen Hannah Stone and Johanna Vang. Stone and Vang each recorded a team-high eight singles victories in their first taste of collegiate tennis during the fall season.
"The girls are excited," Bruno said. "We've had the opportunity to paint the perfect picture right now for our season, and that's what we're looking to do. We've put in the work this week and now we have to see how we match up against UC Davis."
The Aggies return all six of their singles starters from last year's squad that went 17-7 and finished third in the Big West. Three of the starters were All-Big West performers from a year ago, including sophomore Megan Heneghan. Heneghan was named the Big West Freshmen of the Year following her freshmen campaign, amassing a 15-8 overall record and 13-6 as UC Davis' primary No. 1 singles player.
NAU has met UC Davis just once before in program history, defeating the Aggies 6-1 in 2008. The Lumberjacks will try to break a recent trend by winning their season opener, something they've only been able to do once, a 4-3 victory over Santa Barbara in 2010, in Bruno's first six seasons as head coach.