May 5, 2008

Eagles Take on No. 3 UCLA at NCAAs

May 5, 2008

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The Eastern Washington University men's tennis team is going to ride the momentum as long as it can. The Eagles have won eight straight matches, including the last two in incredible comeback fashion to capture its first-ever Big Sky Conference championship, and are set to face off with No. 3 UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Championship at noon on Saturday (May 10).

"The guys are really excited to get the opportunity to play one of best teams in the country," head coach Darren Haworth said. "It's great for the program. This is what every (NCAA) Division I athlete looks for, to get the opportunity to play the best, to make it to the NCAAs.

"Not too many schools can say they made it to the NCAAs, and there are a lot of very good teams that do not make it."

The Eagles (18-6) rallied for 4-3 victories over Montana State and host and regular-season champion Sacramento State to win the title. Eastern Washington was down 3-0 to MSU and trailed the Hornets by a 3-1 score before rallying. More details about these incredible matches may be found below.

Eastern's opponent at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on Saturday, UCLA, has an incredible pedigree as evidenced by its 16 NCAA titles (most recently in 2005) and, most recently, its current run of five straight Pacific-10 Conference crowns.

The Bruins (21-1) have four singles players and one doubles tandem ranked among the top-75 nationally. UCLA will bring a 15-match winning streak into Saturday's contest. Their only loss of 2008 came on Feb. 16 by a 4-3 score to No. 1 Virginia.

"UCLA is one of the top teams in the country," Haworth said. "They are going to be tough; they have six very solid players and they don't lose very often."

The winner of the UCLA-EWU contest will face either Washington (14-9) or Wisconsin (17-9) at 1 p.m. on Sunday (May 11). The Huskies are making their 14th-straight appearance in the Championship, while Wisconsin is making its second consecutive showing and fourth overall.

The two teams actually met in the first round of last year's tournament, which saw the Badgers outlast UW to advance to the second round for the first time in Wisconsin history.

A complete NCAA Championship bracket may be found on page 4 of the above PDF.

 

Incredible Run to the Championship

In what was surely a team effort, it was Nico Riego de Dios' efforts that will long be remembered by Eastern Washington men's tennis supporters, as he gutted through a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory with the season (and the Big Sky Championship) on the line.

His victory on court three on April 26 snapped a 3-3 tie between Eastern Washington and Sacramento State and clinched for EWU its first-ever Big Sky title in the sport of men's tennis.

But, even though his victory was the clincher, the Eagles obviously needed every single point on its way to the historic win over a team that entered the contest with 18 straight victories over Big Sky opposition.

Tying the contest 3-3 was Kenneth Norling, as he rallied from a first-set loss for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory at No. 4. Bringing the Eagles to within one at 3-2 was Daniel Pez, a hero so many times this season for the Eagles (three times previously he broke 3-3 ties with wins), as he was victorious 7-5, 6-2 on the sixth court.

The day before, the Eagles stormed back from a 3-0 deficit to Montana State for the second time this season (having done so in the teams' regular-season meeting on Feb. 22) to advance to the league's championship match for the second straight year (in 2007, EWU snapped an all-time 0-40 record in postseason competition dating to the team's entry into the NCAA Division I ranks in 1984 by riding a pair of wins into the title contest, won by Sacramento State 4-0).

In the semifinal contest on April 26, the match literally could not have been any closer, as Art Karas snapped a 3-3 tie with a 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 victory on court five. Having a singles match decided by tiebreakers in all three sets is rare. Adding to the drama, but insignificant in relation to the importance of the match, the victory earned Karas the top spot on the school's career wins chart, as it was his 44th, one ahead of teammate Pannhara Mam's 43.

Earning wins along the way to the victory were Pez (bringing the score to 3-3), Mam (making it 3-2) and Riego de Dios (putting Eastern on the scoreboard at 3-1).

 

Winningest Season of Division I Era

The Eastern Washington Eagles have clinched four school records in this incredible season, including most wins, most Big Sky Conference victories, best winning percentage and longest winning streak (since joining the NCAA Division I era in 1984).

From Feb. 2-March 8, Eastern (18-6, 7-1 BSC) had a nine-match winning streak, the longest ever seen at the school at the Division I level. The previous mark was eight, set from March 2-April 12, 1985. The Eagles are currently on another eight-match streak dating back to April 5.

"What's gone right this year is the camaraderie of the team; they all have a great deal of respect for each other and that has led them to push each other throughout the season," head coach Darren Haworth said. "There really has not been a day that someone has not come out and worked his hardest, and that's what it takes for a team to be successful."

The best previous season in school history in terms of win totals came last year, when the Eagles finished 14-12, 5-2 in league contests.

The top winning percentage prior to 2008 was attained by the 1985 squad, which recorded a .565 winning percentage with a 13-10 record.

In fact, prior to the past three years (42-26 cumulative record, 15-6 in Big Sky play, three-straight winning seasons), the Eagles had 19 consecutive losing records (perhaps 20, as results from the 1987 season are incomplete).

In the most recent four years from that span (2002-05), EWU went 6-52, 1-25 in league contests.

 

All-Conference Honorees

After leading their respective squads to outstanding seasons, three Eastern Washington University men's tennis players have been honored by the Big Sky Conference as members of its All-Conference teams. Another Eagle earned honorable mention accolades, as well.

Pannhara Mam, Nico Riego de Dios and Kyle Schraeder earned mention to the first team, while Art Karas received honorable mention.

Never before had the team seen three players earn first team honors and the three this year nearly doubles EWU's all-time total, bringing it to seven certificates. Incredibly, six of those seven have been won by current Eagles (Mam has won it twice before, Schraeder earned honors last season and Brian Hart was honored in 1996).

"I am very pleased getting three players named to the first team," head coach Darren Haworth said. "They each deserved to be on there. Art getting an honorable mention was a big deal, as well. He has played great all season."

Mam has accumulated 43 wins in his career, currently second in Eagle annals. He has 15 this year, tied for third on that chart. He and Schraeder have teamed up for 42 career victories to set that school record.

Riego de Dios had the clutch win of the season when he pulled out a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 win to snap a 3-3 tie in the Big Sky championship match to earn EWU a 4-3 victory over Sacramento State and its first-ever berth in the NCAA Championship. The sophomore already has 21 victories in his career, good for the 10th slot on the EWU singles win chart.

Including Karas with his honorable mention accolades, the Eagles had four receive mention for the first time ever. Karas holds the school record for singles wins in a season with 18 this year.

 

Riego de Dios and Karas Named POW

A pair of Eagles has earned Big Sky Conference Player of the Week accolades in 2008, Nico Riego de Dios on April 8 and Art Karas on April 21.

Riego de Dios had a 4-0 week in helping the Eagles to a clutch 4-3 win over Portland and a 7-0 blanking of Portland State in a Big Sky match.

Against the Pilots, he rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 singles victory.

Karas also had a perfect week, as he helped EWU to 6-1 defeats of Weber State and Montana to help Eastern clinch second place in the league and the second seed at the Big Sky Championship.

He won each of his singles matches in straight sets.

 

Mam and Karas Battle for Record

With a 7-6, 6-1 straight-sets win over Idaho State's Marc Pijoan on March 1, junior Pannhara Mam rewrote the Eagle record book, as he took over sole possession of the school record for wins in a career with 34.

He has, however, since been caught by Art Karas, as the two have battled for the top spot in the record book ever since the beginning of March.

After his incredible 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 victory on April 26 to clinch Eastern Washington a 4-3 win over Montana State in the Big Sky Conference semifinals, Karas took over the top spot with his 44th win. Mam enters this weekend's NCAA Championship match with No. 3 UCLA just behind with 43 victories.

The two will be battling it out for the record throughout their senior seasons next year, as they help lead the Eagles to another successful campaign.

Meanwhile, Kyle Schraeder is in third on that list with 37 wins, and the former record holder, Jason Chapman (1992-95), has 33. In fifth is Patrick Millican (32). Daniel Pez is in seventh with 24, while Nico Riego de Dios holds the 10th spot with 21.

In doubles play, Mam and Schraeder have teamed up for 42 career wins to take over the top spot in that category. Jonathan Davis and Millican are in the second spot on that chart with 34 victories.

Impressively, Karas and Riego de Dios have earned 15 wins in 2008 to not only take over sole possession of second on the single-season record chart, but to also take over the third spot on the career listing.

Elsewhere in the single-season doubles listings, Mam and Schraeder have tallied 13 victories this year, good for third, while Jonathan Davis and Millican are sixth with 11 wins.

In the single-season singles listings, Karas took over the school record with a 6-0, 7-6 (7-5) win at No. 5 in Eastern's 6-1 defeat of Montana on April 20. He now has 18 wins in 2008.

In fact, current Eagles take up nine of the top 11 spots on that chart, including the top seven slots, five with performances this year and two last year.

Following Karas with outstanding 2008 performances are Mam, Schraeder and Pez (each has 15 wins to tie for third).

Pez has gone an incredible 15-1 this year (.938 winning percentage).

 

Top-Notch Schedule for Eagles in 2008

The Eagles have taken on top-notch competition this year, having played five matches versus top-75 opponents.

After competing well with No. 68 BYU in a 4-3 road loss on Jan. 19, the Eagles fell to No. 23 Washington 7-0 on March 14 and to 52nd-ranked Fresno State 6-1 on March 26.

Also, UW's Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, ranked 82nd nationally, defeated Pannhara Mam 6-2, 6-1, while Fresno State's Rudolf Siwy, ranked 104th, topped Mam, 6-4, 6-3.

This weekend, the Eagles will take on No. 3 UCLA and, with a win, either 32nd-ranked Washington or No. 33 Wisconsin.

UCLA has four singles players ranked in the top 75: Harel Srugo (23rd), Mathieu Dehaine (40th), Holden Seguso (61st) and Haythem Abid (75th). The Bruins also have one nationally-ranked doubles tandem in Srugo and Nick Meister (52nd).

Washington has one singles player nationally ranked (Patrik Fischer, 94th), while Wisconsin has a singles player (Nolan Polley, 104th) and a doubles team (Polley and Moritz Baumann, 49th) in the national rankings.

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