Men will be fighting for postseason positioning, while women battle it out for one of two remaining spots in the Big Sky tourney
It's the final week of the 2012 regular season, and both the Eastern Washington University men's and women's tennis teams have a lot at stake. The men have already clinched a bid to the Big Sky Conference tournament, held April 21-22 in Sacramento, Calif., but seeding for the event is completely up in the air. The team can still finish anywhere from first to third in the standings, depending entirely on what happens this weekend.
Eastern (11-7, 5-1 Big Sky) will open against Montana State (7-11, 2-4) on Friday (April 13) in Bozeman, Mont., before a showdown with conference-leading Montana (13-4, 6-0) on Saturday (April 14) in Missoula.
The Eagles and Grizzlies, along with Sac State and Weber State, have all solidified a bid to this year's tournament. The Wildcats are guaranteed the No. 4 seed after finishing the regular season at 5-3. But as far as the remaining three seeds go, only one game separates Montana, Sac and Eastern. There is a strong possibility these three teams could all end up tied at the top, but with five matches remaining between them, many scenarios still exist.
While the men play for seeding, the women's team will be fighting to keep its season alive. The Eagles are one of four squads still vying for a spot in the postseason bracket. Among the other three are Montana and Montana State, both of which Eastern will face in the next 48 hours.
Eastern plays the Lady Griz on Friday at 9 a.m. and the Bobcats on Saturday, also at 9 a.m. In order to have a shot at the postseason, EWU must win both matches.
Men's Tennis News & Notes
Last weekend in its final two home matches of the 2012 season, Eastern Washington beat Weber State and Northern Arizona, and in doing so, solidified a bid to the Big Sky Conference Men's Tennis Championship for the first time since 2009. Prior to the 2010 season, EWU had been in the postseason for four-consecutive years, including the school's first ever championship run in 2008. Eastern finished as the runner up in both 2007 and 2009. But in 2010, the tournament field was reduced to four teams (instead of six), making qualification increasingly more difficult. EWU just missed the cut in each of the last two seasons, finishing fifth in 2011 and sixth in 2010. But this year, not only has EWU already earned a bid, but they are guaranteed to finish in the top three! Eastern's 5-2 win against Northern Arizona that clinched the playoff spot was also the team's first against the Lumberjacks since 2008.
In their final season with the Eagles, seniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez have certainly delivered for the red and white. Henninger is among the top three in the Big Sky this season for overall singles wins. He is 12-4 on the year, which includes an impressive 5-1 Big Sky record. Sanchez has earned a 9-6 record in the 2011-12 campaign, and is also 5-1 in conference play. Beyond their individual performances, Henninger and Sanchez have proved to be EWU's most successful doubles team as well. The duo is 9-4 on the season and a perfect 5-0 in league. These two seniors also appear in the EWU record book for career singles wins. Henninger and Sanchez are currently tied at fourth with 39 apiece.
Three Eagles Haul In Weekly Awards
This season, three different members of the men's tennis team have been named Big Sky Players of the Week. Sophomore James Russell earned the initial award of the 2012 season, after he picked up one win in doubles and one in singles against two nationally-ranked teams. In a match against No. 62 St. Mary's, Russell and partner Mario Navarro outlasted Sherif Hamdy and Seif El Sherbini in a tiebreaker at No. 2 doubles. The Eagle pair rallied from a 4-1 deficit to win the match, 9-8 (9-7). The next day against No. 49 Boise State, Russell prevailed in another arduous match at No. 3 singles, as he knocked off BSU's Scott Sears, 6-4, 2-6, 1-0 (10-4). Senior Chad Henninger earned his first-career weekly accolade a couple weeks later, after a nearly flawless weekend in his native state of Oregon. Against the nationally-ranked Ducks, Henninger won in straight sets at No. 4, 6-2, 7-5. In a conference dual with Portland State, Henninger won his doubles match by a score of 8-2 and then continued to roll in singles, as he downed Alex Marx, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6). On the heels of Henninger's award, sophomore Ilija Cuic was honored for his performance in Eastern's 4-3 win over Gonzaga. Playing No. 1 in both doubles and singles, Cuic and partner Kyle Koetje started off the night with a dominant 8-3 victory against GU's Vladimir Mijatovic and Olivier Jamin. Cuic then went on to defeat Alvaro Nazal in straight sets at No. 1 singles, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.
Women's Tennis News & Notes
This season, Eastern Washington has been led by freshman Moira Hedberg, who in her rookie season has played all but one match at No. 1. She has earned a 9-8 overall singles record, and a 4-2 mark in league play. She was recently tabbed as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after celebrating two big wins against Air Force and Seattle. Against the talented 14-3 Falcons, Hedberg took down their No. 1 player, Melissa Cecil, in straight sets. Cecil was 9-4 at No. 1 coming into the match, which included three wins against other Big Sky opponents. Hedberg defeated Cecil handily, 6-0, 6-4.The following day, Hedberg recorded wins in both doubles and singles to led EWU to an exciting 4-3 win against Seattle, which avenged a tough 4-3 loss to the Redhawks from earlier in the season. Hedberg has the second-most No. 1 singles wins of any player in the Big Sky this season behind two-time Big Sky MVP Tatsiana Kapshai from Sac State.
Warner Flawless in Home Finales
Junior Ryann Warner had an awesome week for the Eagles, as she went 3-0 in singles action and 1-1 in doubles in Eastern's final three home matches of the year on April 4, 7 and 8. In the team's first outing of the week, Warner helped EWU capture a win against Idaho State with her 8-2 victory at No. 3 doubles, and a 7-6 (10-8), 6-2 win at No. 4 singles. In EWU's heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Weber State, Warner showed incredible resolve when she outlasted Michelle Warwick in an arduous match at No. 5, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3). The following day against Northern Arizona, Warner earned her third BSC victory in five days. She was the only Eagle to record a win against NAU, as she downed Nicole Perez at No. 5 in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5.
After being sidelined with knee injuries in two of her first three years with the Eagles, junior Kelsey Knight finally made her return to courts this season. As a redshirt-freshman in 2010, Knight boasted the best singles record of anyone on the team at 11-10. She was poised for another promising season in 2011, as she won her first two matches of the year before tearing an ACL in just her third outing against Gonzaga. This year, Knight has played in 14 of Eastern's 17 matches, working hard to regain her rhythm and strength. She has recorded two wins in singles and four in doubles action. Another Eagle affected by injury is redshirt-freshman Helon Ricks, who was the only player to reach 10 wins last year in her rookie campaign. Ricks has been sidelined this entire season though due to a hip injury. She is expected to return as a sophomore in 2013.