Ranked third in the Big Sky preseason poll, men’s tennis team makes anticipated debut at home against two familiar rivals
Temperatures may barely be reaching 30 degrees in the Pacific Northwest, but tennis season at Eastern is officially underway.
Both the Eastern Washington University men’s and women’s tennis teams will be in action this weekend in their first competitions of 2013.
The men open at home with a doubleheader on Sunday (Jan. 20) at the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles take on Idaho at 10:30 a.m., followed by a match against Whitworth at 5 p.m.
The women’s team travels to Pullman, Wash., where it will face nationally-ranked Wyoming on Saturday (Jan. 19) at 6 p.m.
EWU Men’s Tennis Season Preview
Under the direction of sixth-year head coach Darren Haworth, the EWU men’s tennis team enters 2013 with high expectations - made even higher with the release of the Big Sky preseason coaches’ poll.
Despite having just one returning letterwinner from last year’s squad, EWU was picked to finish third in the newly-expanded Big Sky Conference, which now features 11 teams. The Big Sky Conference tournament, held this year in Sacramento, Calif., will now include the top six teams from the regular season, as opposed to four as in had in the previous three seasons.
In the vote of the league’s head coaches, the Eagles came in just behind overwhelming-favorite Sacramento State, who garnered 99 total points and nine of 10 first-place votes. Montana, the reigning regular-season champion, was picked second with 91 points and two first-place votes, while Eastern collected 74 tallies. Weber State, Idaho State and Northern Arizona rounded out the top six.
“In my experiences, preseason rankings don’t mean a whole lot,” said Haworth. “Except maybe for Sac State. They are good. They’ve won the conference tournament several years in a row now, and they’re as good if not better this year than they have been in the past. I would assume everyone in the conference will be shooting for them. But I think it’s going to be a dog fight for second place, and really the top six.”
With 10 of 11 members being freshmen and sophomores, most of Eastern's 2013 roster has never played in a Big Sky match, but according to Haworth, the potential of this team outweighs any doubts surrounding its inexperience.
“I am really happy with what I’ve seen from our team so far,” added Haworth. “I really like the way our guys compete. They are tough, and I think capable of beating anyone in the conference on any given day. We are young and a little inexperienced, but I think we have as good a chance as we’ve had any other year to crack into the top four.”
Before Eastern actually dives into Big Sky Conference play in late February, the Eagles have a busy slate of non-conference matches. EWU opens the 2103 campaign against two regional rivals in Idaho and Whitworth - both teams EWU has on its schedule almost every year.
“Obviously, we’d like to come out of this weekend 2-0,” said Haworth. “Idaho is very good this year, so that should be a really tough match. Whitworth will be another good test, and will also give some of the guys lower in the lineup a chance to play. In these early matches, we just want to see how everyone competes. I am pretty confident with our lineup right now, but this weekend will be a really good gauge of where we are and whether we need to make some changes. We will really take a look at our doubles teams and where we stand there.”
EWU has played both Idaho and Whitworth in each of the past three seasons. Eastern has not dropped a single game to Whitworth in that time, winning all three matches by a score of 7-0. But the Eagles have not been as successful against their rival from the Palouse. Idaho has managed to upend EWU the last three seasons. The Eagles lost 6-1 in the most recent meeting in 2012, fell 5-2 in 2011 and 4-2 in 2010. The last win for Eastern over the Vandals was April 19, 2009 - a 4-3 victory in Moscow.
Expecting to lead the Eagles this season are returning redshirt Joseph Cohen, sophomore transfer Eduardo Martinez and true freshman Tomas Aranguiz - all of whom gained valuable experience playing in several competitive tournaments for EWU this past fall.
“Joseph, Eduardo and Tomas have really established themselves as our top three right now,” said Haworth. “And they each bring their own unique styles and qualities to our team. Joseph is a natural leader. He is extremely talented, and has the potential to beat anybody he plays this season. Eduardo is a very hard worker. He has a great personality and has the ability to really get the team fired up. Tomas is a great competitor on the court. He pulled out a couple big three-set wins this fall. He is just tough, and that is something we need on this team.”
The Eagles will also welcome back the only veteran member of the team, senior Kyle Koetje. Koetje compiled a 10-8 singles record in 2011-12 playing primarily at No. 6. He earned an impressive 6-2 record in conference play, losing only Montana and Sac State, whose teams finished 1-2 in the league.
Freshman Arturo Carpio, who just recently joined the squad during the winter, is also expected to compete for a spot in the top six.
“I think Arturo can make an immediate impact in both doubles and singles,” said Haworth. “I really like what he brings to the team. He has a big game, and is going to be a great addition.”
EWU Women’s Tennis Season Preview
Unlike the men, the women’s team enters the season with a great deal of experience. Eastern’s 2013 roster features six returning letterwinners, two returning redshirts, two returning squad members, as well as two newcomers. But there is a new face at the helm of this program.
Eastern will be coached this year by Dustin Hinson, who joined the staff as interim associate head women’s coach in December. After a successful junior career as one of the top-ranked players in the Pacific Northwest, Hinson played four years of collegiate tennis at Idaho. He is a native of Moscow, Idaho, but now lives in Cheney with his family.
Eastern is coming off a tough season that saw the team win just four of its 19 matches in 2011-12. But with so many veterans back, including All-Big Sky second-team selection Moira Hedberg, the Eagles are expecting more W’s in 2013.
Specifically, EWU is aiming for enough wins to finish in the top six in the Big Sky for a bid to the postseason tournament, held this year in Sacramento, Calif. Eastern has missed the cut the last three years.
The Eagles are not the only ones that find this to be feasible goal. In the 2013 Big Sky preseason coaches’ poll, released Tuesday (Jan. 15), EWU was picked sixth with 44 total points.
“We have a good schedule lined up for the spring, including matches against four nationally-ranked opponents, which will be great in preparing us for conference play,” said Hinson. “We were selected sixth in the preseason poll this year, which was the goal our team set this year - to finish in the top six so we can make it to the tournament and place well there. The team is working very hard in practice so far, both on the court and off the court with their conditioning.”
To help in achieving these goals, Hinson has had a specific focus for the team this year, which he calls PIE.
“This season, I have asked the team to work on three mental attributes: positivity, intensity and encouragement,” explained Hinson. “This little acronym [PIE] has really helped the team stay focused on the court by staying positive, keeping their intensity level high and encouraging one another. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well we’ve done with it. They are working together and getting better every day.”
EWU will enjoy a full roster this season of 12 players. The Eagles will be led by a quartet of seniors in Chelsea Patton, Kelsey Knight, Ryann Warner and Rocio Norena. But EWU also has a talented trio of sophomores, who are all looking to continue the success earned in their freshman campaigns.
Sophomore Moira Hedberg was selected to the All-Big Sky second team in 2011-12, after earning a 4-4 league record while playing at No. 1 singles. She played 18 of 19 matches in the top spot, and was selected as a Big Sky Player of the Week during the year.
Fellow sophomore Chrissy Uriarte, who played primarily at No. 3 singles, also earned a 4-4 record in conference place. With an 8-11 overall singles record, she recorded the second-most wins of anyone on the team behind Hedberg (9-10). Uriarte won her final two matches of the year with two road victories agaisnt Montana and Montana State.
Sophomore Helon Ricks will return to the court for EWU after a redshirt season in 2011-12. Although she hasn’t competed in almost a year, Ricks is ready to pick up right where she left off in her rookie season. In 2010-11, she posted the best overall singles record on the squad. Ricks was the only player to eclipse double-digit wins, as finished the year at 10-11, which included an impressive 5-3 mark in Big Sky Conference play. She won 10 of her first 14 matches in the 2011, all of which were in straight sets.
“We have four seniors on the team this year who are doing a great job of leading by example,” said Hinson. “I’ve been especially impressed with the leadership of Chelsea Patton, who always works hard to keep the girls motivated. And the on-court play of sophomores Moira, Chrissy and Helon has been very impressive so far. I know these girls want to win, and we are anxious to get the season started.”
EWU will certainly be put to the test in its first competition of 2013, as it takes on No. 61 Wyoming. Eastern will play the Cowgirls in Pullman, Wash., on Saturday at 6 p.m. Wyoming’s doubles team of Veronica Popvici and Simona Synkova enters the season ranked 52nd nationally, while both players are ranked in top five in singles for the Mountain Region.
“We take on Wyoming this weekend, and while they are ranked 61st in the nation, there is not one girl on the team who thinks we can’t beat them,” said Hinson. “We are ready to leave it all on the court Saturday.”