With Big Sky Tournament Bid on the Line, Eagles Host Portland State in Final Regular-Season Spar

Depending on other results around the conference, Eastern still has outside shot at postseason play

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The Eastern Washington University men's tennis team returns to Cheney this Friday for its final dual match of the 2011 regular season – and it is a big one. The Eagles are facing a must-win situation when they host Portland State at 1 p.m., as a loss to the Vikings would put EWU out of Big Sky tournament contention.

The four teams with the best record at the end of the regular season advance to the conference championship, held April 21-23 in Bozeman, Mont. Right now, Eastern is in sixth with a 3-4 league record, but four of the five teams ahead of EWU still have at least two matches remaining on their schedules, thus opening the door for significant shuffle in the final week of Big Sky tennis.

Last season, when Eastern and Portland State met in the Rose City, the Vikings triumphed with a very narrow 4-3 decision. Each team won three singles matches, but PSU had the edge in doubles play with two victories at No. 1 and 2. Prior to the 2010 meeting, Eastern had swept Portland State, 7-0 in back-to-back seasons. Junior Chad Henninger is undefeated against the Vikings in his career, having won both his singles and doubles matches the past two seasons.

Eastern hopes it can repeat its performances against PSU from the 2008 and 2009 seasons when it hosts the Viks this Friday on the familiar courts at the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse.

"I like that this match is at home," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "We want to schedule as many home matches late in the season, because they'll usually have a lot riding on them, as is the case this year. Portland State is a solid team, but our guys are playing well right now. We are excited for the opportunity to get one more 'W' under our belts."

 Although Eastern sits at an even .500 (3-3) in home matches this year, the team has certainly played some of its best tennis of the season while in Cheney. On April 1, the Eags nearly upset Sacramento State – a team that has won six-consecutive Big Sky regular-season titles and played in the NCAA Tournament in six of the last 10 years. Despite victories at No. 2, 5 and 6 singles, and a dominating performance at No. 3 doubles, the Hornets edged EWU, 4-3.

Eastern also dropped a 4-3 decision at home to Montana State earlier in the year.  The Eags won the doubles point in the match, but could not survive a trio of three-set matches in singles, as the Bobcats prevailed at No. 1, 2, 3 and 6.

The day after Eastern lost the heartbreaker to MSU, the team came up with a big 5-2 win over Montana. That win may be the saving grace for EWU, as the Grizzlies are also one of the teams on the cusp for a bid to this year's conference tournament. Montana will play MSU, NAU and WSU in the week ahead.

Eastern missed a bid to the Big Sky Championship last season, after three-straight appearances from 2007-09. In 2008, Eastern won the BSC tournament title after taking down Sac State in the finals. With the win, Eastern advanced to the NCAA tourney for the first time in school history.

Eagle Tennis News & Notes

Doubles Domination: As a team, Eastern has won 59 percent of its doubles matches this season, which includes an impressive 14-7 mark in conference action. The Eagles have won the doubles point in four of five Big Sky matches this season, and 11 of 18 overall. Eastern's No. 3 doubles team of Chris Eriksson and James Russell has lost only one conference match this season, while EWU's No. 2 pair of juniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez own an impressive 5-2 mark in league play.

Eriksson/Russell on a Roll: Eastern's dynamic duo of sophomore Chris Eriksson and freshman James Russell have won six-consecutive matches at No. 3 doubles. The pair has made its way into the EWU single-season record book, as one of only seven teams in school history with at least 12 wins in a single season.  Eriksson and Russell own a 12-2 overall mark in the 2011 campaign and are 6-1 in conference action.

Eastern's No. 2 Pair Perfect Through First Five:  Juniors Julian Sanchez and Chad Henninger won its first five Big Sky doubles matches before falling to league-leaders Sac State and Northern Arizona in its two most recent outings. The Eagle pair defeated UNC, 8-5, ISU, 8-3 and was the only doubles team to record a win against Weber State, as it outlasted the Wildcats in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (7-5). Sanchez and Henninger also defeated Montana State (8-2) and Montana (8-6) in Cheney.

Eagles Nearly Upset Perennial Power Sac State: Although the end result was a loss, Eastern played some of its best tennis of the season at home against the Sacramento State Hornets - a team that has won six-consecutive Big Sky regular-season titles and played in the NCAA Tournament in six of the last 10 years. Eastern won its matches at No. 2, 5 and 6 singles, and dominated at No. 3 doubles, but Sac State managed to edge the Eags by a score of 4-3. EWU is only one of two teams in the conference to have won four matches (for three points) against Sac State. Portland State also lost a 4-3 decision on Feb. 10, but Sac State was without its top doubles team and regular No. 3 singles player at the time.

Simikic 'Holds Serve' Against Montanas: As the expression goes, junior Stefan Simikic held serve at home against against Montana State (March 5) and Montana (March 6). He won both his singles matchups and went 1-1 in doubles action. Simikic was one of only two Eagles to win a singles match against MSU, as he defeated Diego Campos Contreras in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2. The following day, Simikic helped Eastern to a huge 5-2 victory over Montana when he beat Andrew Warren also in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3. He helped EWU secure the doubles point with an 8-6 victory at No. 1. Simikic is 7-7 overall on the year and 3-2 in Big Sky outings. He has won three of his last four singles matches.

Sanchez Wins Three in a Row at No. 3: EWU junior Julian Sanchez won three-consecutive matches at the No. 3 spot. He is 5-2 overall on the year when playing at No. 3 singles. Sanchez celebrated a perfect weekend in league play when beat Weber State and Idaho State on Feb. 25 and 27, respectively. He was the only Eagle to record a win against WSU, as he topped P. Ramstromer Pello in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3. The very next day, he bested Dakota Pate of ISU, 7-5, 6-3. Sanchez also has wins at No. 3 against Whitworth, Whitman and Gonzaga, while his two other wins this season came while playing No. 4 singles against Idaho and Northern Colorado.

Koetje Dominates No. 6 Singles: EWU sophomore Kyle Koetje has won five of seven matches played at No. 6 singles. Two of his five victories came in conference play, as he topped Northern Colorado, 6-2, 6-2 and helped Eastern win a close match against Montana with his 6-4, 6-2 victory at No. 6. He has also defeated the No. 6 player from Whitman, Air Force and Seattle.

Altimires Makes Eastern Debut: Freshman Luis Altimires from Terrassa, Spain played in his first-career match for EWU last weekend at the Boise State Spring Break Classic. Altimires debuted at No. 6 singles against the Golden Eagles of Marquette. Although he lost the match, 6-4, 6-3, Altimires was impressive, winning seven games throughout the two-set affair.

Bears No Match For Eagles: Since Northern Colorado became a member of the Big Sky Conference during the 2006-07 season, the EWU men's tennis team has not dropped a single match to the team from Greeley. EWU has swept UNC, 7-0 in each of the last five years. This year, Eastern played Northern Colorado in its Big Sky debut on Feb. 6 and did not lose a single set to the Bears.

Eagles Tabbed Fifth in Big Sky Preseason Coaches Poll: The Eagle men's tennis team earned 40 points in the 2011 preseason coaches poll, good for fifth place in the rankings. EWU returns six players from the 2009-10 squad that earned a 7-14 overall record and 3-5 mark in conference play. Sacramento State is the favorite for the 2011 season, having earned 63 total points and seven of nine first-place votes by the coaches. Northern Arizona and Montana followed in the poll at second and third, respectively, while Weber State garnered two more points than Eastern to claim fourth place. EWU's Big Sky season commences on Feb. 6 against Northern Colorado, who was tabbed ninth by the coaches.

BSC Preseason Poll    2010 Record    
School (first-place votes)   Total Points   Big Sky Overall  
Sacramento State (7) 63 7-1 17-12  
Northern Arizona (1) 53 6-2 13-9  
Montana (1) 47 6-2 9-7  
Weber State 42 6-2 10-13  
Eastern Washington 40 3-5 7-14  
Portland State 31 4-4 7-10  
Montana State 24 3-5 7-16  
Idaho State 15 1-7 1-12  
Northern Colorado 9 0-8 1-15  

Mussolini Wins Initial Big Sky POW Honors: Sophomore Fernando Mussolini was honored as the first tennis Big Sky Player of the Week for the 2011 season. This is the second weekly award for Mussolini, as he was also recognized by the league on Feb. 24, 2010. Mussolini, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, went 2-0 at No. 1 singlesduring the week, which included one of the biggest victories in Eastern Washington men's tennis history. Mussolini defeated Idaho's Marius Cirstea, who is ranked 57th in the nation and 17th in the mountain region. Mussolini beat Cirstea in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5. He is the first player under head coach Darren Haworth to beat a nationally-ranked player (top 100), and believed to be the first Eagle to do so since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I.

Eastern Returns Two 10-Win Players from Last Season: Sophomore Fernando Mussolini and junior Chad Henninger were the only two players to record double-digit wins in 2010. Mussolini finished they year with a 10-11 record, playing primarily at No. 3 singles. Henninger finished at 10-5 overall with equal outings at the No. 4 and No. 5 positions. Henninger, a native of Eugene, Ore., was also Eastern's most successful doubles player in 2010, garnering 14 wins throughout the year.

Five New Faces for 2011: The 2011 EWU men's tennis roster includes five new members from a year ago, including three international students. Among the newcomers is James Russell, a freshman from Kirkland, Wash. and Chris Eriksson, a sophomore-transfer from Saint Louis University. Head coach Darren Haworth also added three talented players from outside the US, including Mario Navarro, a native Barcelona, Spain, Luis Altimires from Terrassa, Spain, and Ilija Cuic from Zagreb, Croatia.

Sanchez in EWU Single Season and Career Record Book: Junior Julian Sanchez is the only active Eagle who appears in both the single season and career record book. As a freshman in 2009, Sanchez garnered 13 wins, which was enough to be included in the top 15 players in Eastern history in terms of single-season wins. In his career, Sanchez has compiled 29 total wins in singles play, which ranks eighth in the EWU career record book.

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