Despite rocky season, Eastern looking to close out conference on high note
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Although out of the running for postseason play, the Eastern Washington University women's tennis team is hoping for a positive finish to its 2011 Big Sky season. The Eagles will host Portland State on Saturday (April 16) for their final conference dual of the year.
The match is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at the EWU Sports & Recreation tennis facility in Cheney, Wash., but in the event of rain on Saturday, the match will be moved to the Spokane Club in Spokane, and will start at approximately 8 p.m.
Eastern enters the match with a 5-16 overall record, and 1-6 mark in Big Sky play. EWU won three matches in a row to start the 2011 campaign, and five of its first nine, but a few untimely injuries led to a prolonged skid for the red and white. Due to the 12-match losing streak, which included five-straight losses in conference, the Eagles missed the cut for a postseason bid for the second year in a row.
Postseason play in the Big Sky Conference used to include two regional tournaments at the end of each season. The four schools in each region competed against one another in a weekend of round robin matches to determine a division champion. In 2002, the format was changed to a single championship event at one site, which included the top six teams from the regular season. In 2010, the field for the postseason was cut to four, which made qualifying for the coveted event even more difficult. Prior to the 2010 season, Eastern had played in the Big Sky tourney for five-consecutive years.
Portland State is currently only one spot ahead of EWU in the league standings, but with three matches remaining on its schedule, the Vikings still have an outside shot at postseason play for the 2011 season.
PSU is 4-11 on the year, and owns a 1-4 mark in conference. The team has dropped its last four matches, all to opponents who also appeared on EWU's 2011 slate. The Vikings fell to Gonzaga (6-1), Seattle (5-2), Washington State (7-0) and most recently, Northern Arizona (6-1).
Portland State does boast one of the top players in the league in Yuki Sugiyama. A native of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, Sugiyama has won 11 matches this year at No.1 singles, which includes a 4-1 mark in Big Sky duals. This weekend, Sugiyama is chasing the Portland State record for wins in a single-season since the school made the jump to Division I.
Leading the Eagles in the 2011 campaign has been freshman Helon Ricks, who owns a 10-9 overall record. The Hot Springs, Ark., native won her first five conference outings in a row, before losing two tough matches to Sacramento State and Northern Arizona. Ricks, who has five victories at No. 5 singles, four at No. 6 and one at No. 4, is the only player on the team with double-digit wins in 2011.
Eagle Tennis News & Notes
Helon is Hot in Big Sky: Freshman Helon Ricks won her first five conference outings in a row, before losing two tough matches to Sacramento State and Northern Arizona on April 3 and 9, respetively. She has won three conference matches at No. 5 singles and two at No. 6. Against the ISU on Feb. 19, Ricks clinched the match for Eastern after rallying back from a one-set deficit at No. 5. She lost her first set to ISU's Laura Severino, but then won 12 of the next 16 games to take the match 3-6, 6-4, 6-0. The following day against WSU, Ricks beat Kristi Russell in straight sets at No. 5, 6-3, 6-2. She has also downed her opponents from Montana, Northern Colorado and Montana State in straight sets. In league-only matches, she owns the best record of all players in the Big Sky, and she is just one of two players in the conference to have at least 10 wins already this season. Ricks' overall season record stands at 10-4 in singles and 5-8 in doubles action.
Eagles Excel in Three-Set Affairs: Eastern Washington has won 11 of 20 three-set matches played this season. Eight different players on the roster have won at least one three-set match during the 2011 campaign. Most recently, sophomore Chelsea Patton rallied from a one-set deficit to beat Gonzaga's Sophie Lantta in three, 3-6, 7-5, 1-0 (10-6). Against Portland on Feb. 4, Eastern won both three setters played in the match, as junior Caitlin Bampton defeated Alice Tucker at No. 3 singles, 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 6-3 and Patton won at No. 4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2. Senior Judy Liening is undefeated (2-0) in three-set matches this year, and both of her wins came after falling in the first set. Freshman Helon Ricks and sophomores Rocio Norena and Ryann Warner have all prevailed in three-set matches against conference opponents, including a first-career conference victory for Norena against MSU on March 12.
Injury Report: They say lightning doesn't strike the same place twice, but redshirt-sophomore Kelsey Knight would have to disagree. In Eastern's fourth match of the season, Knight suffered a torn ACL in her left knee. The injury occurred while playing Gonzaga at the Spokane Racquet Club on Jan. 26. Two years ago, Knight tore the ACL in her right knee while playing in the exact same facility on the exact same court. Knight will be out for the rest of the 2011 season.
Eagles Go 3-0 in Opening Weekend: Eastern Washington opened its 2011 campaign with three wins in two days. The Eagles swept Whitworth and Whitman, and dropped only one point in its 6-1 defeat of cross-state rival Seattle. Eastern clinched the doubles point against the Redhawks after two incredible comebacks at No. 1 and No. 2. At No. 2 doubles, Chelsea Patton and Helon Ricks found themselves down 7-4 to Seattle's Weissman and Lucas. The Eagle duo then rallied to win five of the next six games, including a tiebreaker at 8-8, to eventually win the match, 9-8. The No. 1 doubles pair of Caitlin Bampton and Kelsey Knight also overcame some early adversity, as they trailed Seattle 4-2 to start the match. EWU was able to eventually gut out the win with a 9-7 decision.
Eagles in Middle of Pack According to BSC Preseason Poll: The Eagle women were selected fifth in the 2011 Big Sky Preseason coaches poll. EWU garnered 36 points in the poll to finish behind unanimous favorite Sacramento State (64), second-place Northern Arizona (55) and Montana (52) and Montana State (38). Eastern's preseason ranking seemed quite fitting, considering the Eagles have finished fifth in the conference in each of the last two seasons. EWU earned a 4-4 league record in both 2009 and 2010. With the BSC tournament field being reduced from six to four in the 2010 season, Eastern just missed the cut for postseason competition.
|2011 BSC Preseason Poll||2010 Record|
|School (first-place votes)||Total Points||Big Sky||Overall|
|Sacramento State (8)||64||8-0||19-9|
|Northern Arizona (1)||55||6-2||13-10|
Knight and Warner Return after Impressive 2010 Campaign: Junior Kelsey Knight and sophomore Ryann Warner were the only two Eagles to record a winning record in singles play during the 2010 season. Knight went 11-10 on the season, playing primarily at No. 2 singles, while Warner earned an overall record of 11-9, with a majority of those wins coming at the No. 6 spot. Knight and Warner's 11 wins in the 2010 season were enough to crack the top ten list of the EWU record book. Knight and Warner are currently tied for ninth on Eastern's all-time single-season wins list with those 11 victories. The school record is held by Kasey Knox, who garnered 14 wins in 2007.
Eastern's Upperclassmen Appear in Career Record Book: Of Eastern's eight returning players, only two are of junior or senior status, and both of those upperclassmen have made their way into the EWU record book for career singles wins. Senior Judy Liening is eighth on the list with 23 total wins in her career. Junior Caitlin Bampton is tied for ninth with 21 singles victories.
Two New Faces for 2011: In addition to his eight returners, associate head coach Dale Silha added two new players to the 2011 roster. Nefeli Diamanti, a native of Athens, Greece, transferred to Eastern after spending two years with the Cal St. Bakersfield Roadrunners. While at CSUB, Diamanti compiled an overall singles record of 7-28, while going 5-28 in doubles play. Before coming to the United States, Diamanti ranked as high as No. 3 among U18 players in Greece. Ricks is a product of Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Ark. She won the girls singles title at the 2006 Arkansas 5A State Championship, and was a finalist in 2007 and 2008. She played at No. 1 singles as a freshman, sophomore and junior, tallying a 51-2 overall record during those years. She also played on the USTA junior competitive circuit, where she ranked as high as 49th in southern section in both singles and doubles play.