FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – With their first home match on tap for Sunday, the Northern Arizona women's tennis team embarks on a tough three-match weekend that features two nationally-ranked opponents and the 10-time defending Big Sky champions. The Lumberjacks will carry a 4-5 overall record, 3-0 in the Big Sky, into Las Vegas, Nev. for a pair of matches against No. 64 UNLV and Nevada before returning home to host No. 71 Sacramento State.
"We're definitely feeling good after turning around our season a little bit after our last weekend, but this weekend will be a lot tougher competition," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "Our goal is to continue competing at the level that we have been, taking chances at the big points and build our confidence. Hopefully by the end of the weekend we'll be playing a really high level."
Despite a tough weekend ahead, the Lumberjacks are brimming with confidence following a 2-1 mark in competition two weeks ago. After showing improvement throughout their loss to previously No. 20 Arizona State, they proceeded to sweep through Weber State and Idaho State, taking all six doubles and 12 singles matches against their conference foes in the process.
All seven of the Lumberjacks that competed during the weekend won at least one singles match with juniors Ghizelene Doballah, Alice Pacaut and Malia Wahinepio and freshmen Hannah Stone and Johanna Vang winning two matches each. NAU is now 17-1 in singles play and 6-3 in doubles play through their first three conference matches.
Both UNLV and Nevada will provide the Lumberjacks with high-level competition to open the weekend beginning Friday. The nationally-ranked Rebels are 6-4 this season and are led by two players ranked in the top-125 in the nation. Lucia Batta, No. 58, and Aleksandra Josifoska, No. 113, have split time at the top-two spots in the UNLV lineup. Batta is undefeated in singles play at 10-0, while Josifoska has posted a 6-4 mark thus far.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack own a 2-3 record this spring. Rymma Maslova has been playing stellar tennis recently, winning four singles matches in a row to lead the team with a 4-1 mark. Nevada also has Michelle Okhremchuk at the top of their lineup, who's posted a 3-2 record at No. 1 this season.
After their stay in Las Vegas, the Lumberjacks will finally return home for their first home match of the season against perennial champion Sacramento State. The Hornets, winners of the last 10 Big Sky titles, are currently tied with NAU atop the conference standings with a 3-0 mark in league play. With their three conference wins this season, the Hornets have won 85 consecutive league matches, including postseason play. The powerful Hornet lineup is led by two-time reigning Big Sky MVP Tatsiana Kapshai, who is 6-4 this season and has yet to lose a conference match in her career.
Sunday will be a tough task for the Lumberjacks considering the Hornets have defeated NAU in the last six Big Sky Championship finals.
"I want to see the girls not be mentally owned by them," Bruno said. "Losing to a team in the finals for six years causes a mental ownership, but I want to see them play out of their comfort zones. We have nothing to lose going into this match and I want to see them play like we have nothing to lose, take risks. Sac State is at a different level in the conference than the rest of us, so we're going to have play our extremely best tennis against them."
With the team moving out of the Flagstaff Athletic Club, their home since 2006, the Lumberjacks hope to play Sunday's match at Continental Country Club, weather permitting. Should the Lumberjacks not be able to play in town, the match will likely be moved to Sedona. Regardless, match time is set for 11 a.m.
The Lumberjacks' weekend starts against the Rebels on Friday at 3 p.m. at the Fertitta Tennis Complex.