Finally at Home, Men’s Tennis Prepares for Matches Against Montana Schools

Eastern looking to 'hold serve,' as it wraps up first half of Big Sky season

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After playing its last six-straight matches on the road, the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team will finally return to Cheney, Wash., for its next two competitions. The Eagles will face two Big Sky opponents this weekend, starting with Montana State on Saturday (March 5) at the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse. EWU will then battle Montana on Sunday (March 6). Both matches are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

"Our focus this week is definitely to defend home court," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "We are playing two very solid teams in the conference, but we know how important it is to win at home, so we are prepared to play our best tennis."

Eastern is 2-1 in conference action, after splitting its most recent outings at Weber State and Idaho State. The Eagles dropped a narrow 6-1 match to the Wildcats after forcing three three setters and five tiebreakers in Ogden. EWU swept ISU in doubles play, and went on to win the match, 5-2.

Saturday's matchup with Montana State will be the first official Big Sky outing for the Bobcats. MSU is 2-5 on the season, and has actually played three Big Sky schools in Northern Colorado, Montana and Idaho State, but as part of the non-conference season. The Bobcats beat UNC, 4-3, and ISU, 7-0, but lost to Montana, 5-2.

The Bobcats were picked to finish seventh in this year's Big Sky preseason coaches' poll. Montana State went 3-5 in league play last year, with one of those wins coming against Eastern. The Bobcats managed to edge the Eagles in Bozeman with a 4-3 decision. EWU's Fernando Mussolini, Chad Henninger and Kyle Koetje all won in singles play, but MSU swept the doubles matches and also nabbed wins at No. 1, 2 and 4 singles.

Eastern had won the previous five matchups against the Bobcats, including two in Big Sky tournament play.

The Montana Grizzlies have also not yet played an official Big Sky dual match. Montana is 3-1 on the year, with two of those victories coming against Big Sky schools, but in "non-conference" matches. Montana beat ISU, 6-1 in Pocatello and defeated MSU at home, 5-2.

Like MSU, the Grizzlies also topped Eastern during the 2010 campaign. The Eagles won the doubles point, but then managed to record only one win in singles play, resulting in the 5--2 setback. It was junior Julian Sanchez who got that one win in Missoula, as he bested Josh Smith, 6-3, 6-3. Eastern had beat Montana in the previous two seasons (5-2 in 2009 and 6-1 in 2008).

The Grizzlies were picked to finish third in the league this year according to the 2011 preseason coaches' poll. They garnered one first-place vote and 47 total points, which was just seven more than Eastern, who came in fifth in the rankings.

Eagle Tennis News & Notes

Powerful Pairs: Eastern's junior doubles duo of Julian Sanchez and Chad Henninger have won four matches in a row at No. 2 doubles,  including three-consecutive outings in Big Sky Conference action. The Eagle duo defeated UNC, 8-5, ISU, 8-3 and was the only pair to record a win against Weber State, as the Eagles won in a thrilling tiebreaker, 9-8 (7-5). Two other Eagle pairs have been quite successful in the 2011 season, as sophomore Chris Eriksson and freshman James Russell, and junior Stefan Simikic and sophomore Kyle Koetje are both 4-1 on the year. Eriksson and Rusell took down Alex Grubbs and Danny Gies of the USAFA, 8-5. They followed that win with another 8-5 victory over UNC's Lepine and Day, and then defeated Gonzaga's Eischen and Guillermo, 8-1. Simikic and Koetje clinched the doubles point for EWU in its match against Air Force, after the pair outlasted Taylor Soster and Lucas Marin-Salcedo, 9-8 (9-7). They have also won two conference matches against UNC (8-2) and ISU (8-7).

Sanchez is 5-0 at No. 3: EWU junior Julian Sanchez is undefeated this year when playing at No. 3 singles. He has won four-consecutive matches in that position, three of which were against Big Sky opponents. Sanchez recently celebrated a perfect weekend in league play, as beat Weber State and Idaho State a No. 3. 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 is 7-3 overall in the 2011 season, which is the best record on the EWU squad and among the top five in the Big Sky.

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 Coloardo in its Big Sky debut on Feb. 6 and did not lose a single set to the Bears.

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.

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  

Eagles Excel in Three Setters: The Eagles have won five of the eight three-set matches they have played in this season. Chad Henninger, Kyle Koetje, Mario Navarro, James Russell and Julian Sanchez have all prevailed in three-set affairs. In Eastern's competitive non-conference schedule, Sanchez recorded a big win over Gonzaga's Conor Feeney, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Koetje defeated Steven Young of Air Force, 6-2, 3-6, 1-0 (10-8), while Navarro was the only Eagle player to record a win against the Portland Pilots, as he topped  Adam Ferrero, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

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 interational 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 28 total wins in singles play, which ranks eighth in the EWU career record book.

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