FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women's tennis team has been playing its best tennis of the spring over the last three weeks, but it is the final three weeks that matters the most now as the Lumberjacks gear up for the Big Sky Championship tournament. The final stretch of the regular season begins this Saturday and Sunday at Montana State and Montana as NAU hopes to continue its winning ways on its final road trip of the season.
"It's going to be a tough weekend, there's no question about it," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "Montana has very similar results to us and they're a great team. It's going to be a battle one way or the other, so we have to continue playing how we've been playing and competing how we've been competing. At the end of the day, hopefully things will fall our way."
The Lumberjacks (13-8 overall, 5-1 Big Sky) extended their win streak to seven matches this past weekend with wins over Eastern Washington, Idaho State and UT-Pan American and improved to 5-0 at home this season. While they won't have the comforts of playing at home this weekend, the Lumberjacks can rest assured that they continue to receive contributions throughout their entire lineup during one of the program's most dominating stretches in school history.
As a team, the Lumberjacks continue to pace the Big Sky in both singles and doubles wins. They are the one of two teams in the conference with all three of their primary doubles pairs in double-digit wins and one of two teams with four players with double-digit singles victories. Seniors Alice Pacaut and Malia Wahinepio, at 14-3 at No. 3 doubles, continues to lead the Lumberjacks in doubles play, while the No. 1 pair of sophomores Hannah Stone and Johanna Vang are 12-6. NAU's No. 2 duo of seniors Ghizelene Doballah and Nicole Perez has won seven consecutive matches and is 10-9 entering the weekend.
Perez carries a team-best eight match singles win streak on the road and looks to finish her senior season strong, already at a career-high 15-6. Pacaut (13), Vang (11) and Wahinepio (11) join Perez with 10 or more wins while Stone (9) and Doballah (8) are not far behind. Should Stone and Doballah reach double-digit victories this weekend, the Lumberjacks would have all six of their primary players with 10 or more victories for the first time since 2008. In addition to the starting six, junior Tatum Rochin picked up two more victories last weekend and remains perfect at 7-0 this spring.
The Lumberjacks' first opponent this weekend is Montana State on Saturday. The Bobcats are coming off an off week but are in the midst of an eight-match losing streak after starting the season 3-1. Ellie Crum is the only player on the team with a winning record at 7-5 while the Bobcats' No. 1 doubles pairing of Charlotta Hjalmarsson and Paulina Lopez Trevino is 6-6. NAU picked up its fourth consecutive victory over Montana State last season in Flagstaff, 5-1.
As important as NAU's match at Montana State is on Saturday, the Lumberjacks' match at Montana on Sunday potentially holds postseason seeding and tiebreaking implications. Both the Lumberjacks and the Grizzlies enter the weekend tied for second in the Big Sky at 5-1 in the conference. The Grizzlies is 10-7 overall following wins over Eastern Washington and Gonzaga earlier this week. Precious Gbadamosi is a team-best 13-3 with Laurence Pelchat at 12-5 and Haley Driver at 10-6 also owning double-digit wins. All three of the Grizzlies' doubles pairings, like the Lumberjacks, have at least 10 wins. A year ago, the Lumberjacks edged out Montana, 4-3, at home during the regular season, but the Grizzlies exacted revenge in the Big Sky semifinals as they eliminated the Lumberjacks, 4-2, from the postseason.
This season with the conference tournament expanding to six teams, the top-two seeds will earn a first round bye with the winner of Sunday's match gaining the inside track to the second seed behind Sacramento State.
"I look at it as just clinching second place in the regular season because that means a lot to us as a program," Bruno said. "The conference tournament is one thing, but the whole season is another thing. That's part of the journey. With that being said though, the second seed will allow you to play just two matches instead of playing three matches and being beat up on that last day, it's important for us to try and clinch that."
The Lumberjacks play at Montana State in Bozeman, Mont. on Saturday at 9 a.m. and Montana in Missoula, Mont. on Sunday at 8 a.m.