Eagles dominate doubles, winning five of six matches against MSU and UM
The physical, mental and emotional strength of the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team was the put the test this weekend in a pair of grueling Big Sky Conference matches in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles fell in heartbreaking fashion to the Bobcats of Montana State on Saturday (March 5), but then came out the next day with the fire they needed to defeat a powerful Montana team, 5-2.
Eastern and Montana State played for more than five hours on Saturday at the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse, but at the end of the day, the Bobcats proved to have the upper hand, as it edged Eastern, 4-3.
EWU gained an early advantage on MSU after winning the doubles point with victories at No. 2 and 3. Juniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez extended their winning streak in doubles play to six, as the duo defeated MSU's Diego Campos Contreras and Alberto Fuentes, 8-2. As a team, Henninger and Sanchez are 8-2 on the season, including a perfect 5-0 in Big Sky play.
Although nabbing the coveted doubles point, EWU had a hard time putting matches away in singles play, as it lost three three-set battles. Sophomore Fernando Mussolini fell to Pawel Turzanski at No. 1 singles, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and Sanchez dropped his match at the No. 3 spot, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4.
The Bobcats earned their third point of the day when freshman Mario Navarro was bested by Fletcher Keyes, 6-2, 6-3 at No. 2. Eastern was able to get two more victories at No. 4 and No. 5 singles, tying the match at three all. Junior Stefan Simikic won at No. 4, 7-5, 6-2, while junior Chad Henninger made quick work of his opponent at No. 5 singles, 6-3, 6-1.
Sophomore Chris Eriksson, who was playing in the No. 6 spot, endured the most arduous match of the day, as he fought through three sets and two tiebreakers with the match riding on his shoulders. Eriksson, a native of Santa Rosa, Calif., lost his first set 7-6 (7-5), but rebounded well, winning the second, 7-5. The decisive third set came down to a tiebreaker, and Eriksson came up just short, falling 7-6 (7-2).
"Chris played a great match and truly gave 120 percent," commended EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "I am so proud of his performance. The loss is unfortunate, but that is the kind of effort we need in every match from every player."
Despite the tough loss to MSU on Saturday, the Eagles did not let it get the best of them, as they came out the next day with one of their best performances of the season.
Eastern earned the first point of the day against Montana with a sweep of the doubles matches. Simikic and sophomore Kyle Koetje won at No. 1 doubles, 8-6, as did Sanchez and Henninger at No. 2. Russell and Eriksson won their fourth-consecutive outing, as they bested UM's Ben Demarois and Andrew Warren, 8-3.
The Eagles extended their lead to 3-0 after Simikic and Mussolini won in straight sets at No. 4 and No. 1 singles, respectively.
Sanchez dropped a three setter to UM's Josh Smith at No. 2 singles (6-4, 3-6, 6-2), but Navarro clinched the match for EWU when he outlasted Michael Facey in three sets (3-6, 6-3, 6-2) at No. 2.
"The win today against Montana was huge in a lot of different ways," explained Haworth. "The guys came together as a team and really played to their potential. The team understands now what it's going to take to make the conference tournament, and if we can continue to play like we did today, we should have a good shot."
Koetje also won his match against the Grizzlies, as he downed David Cysneiros, 6-4, 6-2. Koetje is now 5-3 on the season, including a perfect 4-0 at No. 6 singles.
Eastern, now at 3-2 in the Big Sky, will not face another league opponent for nearly a month. The Eagles will head out on the road to play six different non-conference opponents over the next three weeks before returning home to take on Gonzaga on March 29, and then perennial tennis powerhouse, Sacramento State on April 1.