Jan. 14, 2009
The Eastern Washington University women's tennis team, in the midst of an impressive turnaround, looks to continue its quality play in 2009.
Eastern opens its season with matches versus Air Force and Lewis-Clark State. The first contest will be played in Pullman, Wash., and starts at 4 p.m. on Friday (Jan. 16), while the Eagles head to Lewiston, Idaho, to face LCSC at 10 a.m. on Saturday (Jan. 17).
The Eagles enter 2009 having won 25 overall matches since the beginning of the 2006 season (by comparison, the 2001-05 teams combined for just eight victories). In Big Sky Conference contests, Eastern has gone 8-7 the last two years after going 6-43 from 2000-06.
Also, the Eagles claimed their first postseason victory, 4-0 over Montana in the Big Sky quarterfinals, at the end of last year, its first since 1994. The victory snapped a 29-match postseason losing streak for the Eagles since 1994.
The 10 wins earned by the 2008 squad were the most by an Eagle team since the 1993 team went 10-8. That also marks the last time Eastern has posted a winning record, something this year's squad has set as a goal.
Eastern returns three of its six letterwinners from that team and welcomes five newcomers to the 2009 squad. The returning letterwinners include Rachel Berger, Marie Demerath and Amanda Mankovits.
Demerath and Mankovits are tied for sixth all-time in Eagle history in career singles wins with 25 apiece. The two have also attained 11 doubles wins when teamed up with each other, tied for seventh on that list.
Air Force went 6-21 last year, 0-8 in Mountain West Conference action, while the Warriors were 9-9 and advanced to the Round of 32 at the NAIA national tournament.
Top-Notch Schedule for Eagles
The Eagles take on top competition in 2009, as a pair of nationally-ranked teams is on the slate, including No. 58 Sacramento State and 44th-ranked Washington State.
The Eagles play host to the Hornets in both teams' initial Big Sky Conference match of 2009 on Feb. 8, while Eastern will pay a visit to the Palouse and WSU on April 9.
Also, the Eagle players are scheduled to take on three singles opponents ranked nationally, as well as one nationally-ranked doubles team.
The singles players include No. 58 Katrina Zheltova of Sacramento State, 119th-ranked Cougar Ekaterina Kamendova and No. 124 Elisabeth Fournier, also of Washington State.
Aileen Tsan and Gayane Sarkisian of Sacramento State comprise the 54th-ranked doubles team.
2009 Season Preview
The Eastern Washington University women's tennis team, in the midst of an impressive turnaround, looks to continue its quality play in 2009. Just a year ago, the squad earned its first postseason victory in 14 years and posted its highest win total in 13 campaigns. This year's team is looking to take it a step further, a winning season, which would be EWU's first since the 1993 team went 10-8.
"Earning a winning record and getting to the Big Sky Tournament are two of our main goals of 2009," associate head women's coach Dale Silha said. In addition to the team's regular tennis training, "we are emphasizing strength, conditioning, movement and nutrition, which will help support the players' abilities to compete at a higher level and have a positive impact on each of their games. We have a mission this year to bring the best we have and fight hard in every match, regardless of the score."
The team, which includes three returning letterwinners and five newcomers, had an eventful fall campaign preparing for the dual-match portion of the season in this spring.
"We had some adversity (players leaving the program the first week of fall practice), and I am really proud of the women on this team and how they stepped up their play and had a successful fall," Silha said. "They have really come together as a team and support each other on and off the court."
Senior Amanda Mankovits has sprinkled her name throughout the Eagle record book, including tying for the second-most doubles wins in a single season twice with 11 (in 2008 with Kasey Knox and in 2007 with Marie Demerath). She also has 25 all-time singles wins, tying for sixth on that chart. This past year, Mankovits earned Big Sky Conference Player of the Week accolades on March 25.
"Amanda is a team captain this year who has shown great leadership on and off the court," Silha said. "She is a feisty, aggressive player who really stepped up her game this fall at Stanford (the ITA Regionals) and at a couple of local tournaments (the Cougar Classic in Pullman, Wash., and the GU/EWU Classic in Cheney).
She and Demerath also combined for three wins at the Landings Clay Court Invitational in Savannah, Ga., this fall.
Demerath won 11 singles contests in the spring of 2008, tied for the ninth-highest total in Eastern Washington history. Also, her win total the year before of 14 is tied for the school record in that category. Demerath has 25 singles wins in her career, tied for the sixth-most in Eagle history. She also earned Big Sky POW honors in 2007.
"Marie had a great season last year and is continuing to improve," Silha said. "She has some of the cleanest strokes and best footwork of any player I have worked with and, at the same time, she is a hard worker and in great shape. Marie is continuing to get more aggressive and finish off points at the net, which will help her close out some of the tougher matches she will play. I expect big things from her in doubles, no matter who she is partnered with."
Rachel Berger not only enters 2009 with 33 career singles wins, the fourth-highest total in Eastern Washington history, but also teamed up with former Eagle Kerstyn Dolack for 15 career and 11 single-season (2008) doubles victories, second and tied for second, respectively, on those charts. The senior's 12 singles wins last year ties for third in Eagle annals. She attained Big Sky POW accolades in 2006.
"After battling back problems last year, Rachel is nearly back to full strength," Silha said. "She is probably one of the most tenacious and smartest competitors in the conference and simply will not give up. Rachel is an inspirational person who the team relies on, and she leads through example, having proven her toughness over the years."
Judy Liening saw limited action her freshman year at Eastern, but is looking to have a breakthrough 2008 campaign.
"Judy has greatly improved her game from last year and followed through with some positive results this fall," Silha said. "She has a solid all-around game with great strokes, volleys and serving ability. Judy has been working hard on her speed, movement and explosiveness, which should have a real positive impact on her game this spring."
Heather Handwerk came to Eastern from the Community Colleges of Spokane and Ferris High School and saw action in one contest last year.
"Heather is returning from an injury incurred in the first tournament of the fall," Silha said. "She is one of those players who drives her opponents crazy - she is extremely fast and gets to nearly every ball, making it very difficult for them to finish a point. That frustration tends to lead to them making mistakes, and Heather takes advantage of that."
Kelsey Knight was a top-20 juniors player in Georgia before moving to Folsom, Calif., and becoming Folsom High School's No. 1 player.
"As a freshman, Kelsey has already stepped up her play with some great wins in the fall and a big win at the Stanford Invitational against a San Jose State player," Silha said. "She is a fierce competitor who has no fear of playing anybody, regardless of their ranking or position. I expect great play from her this year."
Caitlin Bampton arrives at Eastern after being a top-ranked juniors player out of Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, Wash.
"Caitlin is another freshman who is really stepping up her game this year," Silha said. "She has a great all-around game and is one of the best volleyers I have worked with. She has a solid serve and is a force in doubles, no matter who she is paired with."
Kasie King is a transfer from the University of Idaho who will be bringing her diverse experiences to Eastern.
"After not playing last year, Kasie has been working hard to bring her game back up to her own expectations," Silha said. "She is a hard worker with outstanding athletic ability who, as the season progresses, will become a force for this team."
Marta Tosic, who joined the team in January, is a transfer student from Serbia. She had taken time away from tennis the past year, but is working hard to bring her game back to top form.
The Eagles will play some impressive competition in 2009, including a pair of nationally-ranked foes in No. 44 Washington State and 58th-ranked Sacramento State, the defending Big Sky champions. Those two teams also advanced to the NCAA Championship last year.
Eastern Washington starts its season with a match versus Air Force on Jan. 16 in a contest to be played in Pullman, Wash. The Eagles begin their Big Sky campaign at home versus the Hornets on Feb. 8.
After starting its 2009 campaign with a 1-1 weekend in Seattle, Wash., the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team will now look ahead to two more road challenges in No. 66 Utah as well as Utah State.
In its first two contests on Saturday (Jan. 10), the Eagles fell to No. 34 Washington 7-0 before dominating Seattle University, 7-0, later that day.
Utah, who Eastern will take on at 4 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday (Jan. 16), will play its season opener against the Eagles.
Utah State opens its season that day at BYU before hosting EWU at 9 a.m. on Saturday (Jan. 17) in its first home match of 2009.
In 2008, the Utes went 13-11 and tied for first in the Mountain West Conference with a 5-1 mark. Utah State was 6-14, 0-4 in Western Athletic Conference contests.
Dating to last year, the Eagles have won 9-of-11 matches.
The team also returns six of its eight starters from a 2008 squad that won its first-ever Big Sky Conference championship. Six newcomers join the 2009 team.
The six returnees include four who earned All-Big Sky honors a year ago (Pannhara Mam, Nico Riego de Dios and Kyle Schraeder were each named to the first team, while Art Karas earned Honorable Mention accolades).
Also, seniors Karas, Mam and Schraeder are first, second and third, respectively (45, 43 and 38 wins apiece), on the career singles wins listing in the Eastern record book. Senior Daniel Pez is seventh (25), while Riego de Dios, a junior, is currently tied for the ninth slot (22).
Impressive Turnaround for Eagles
Before completely turning around its program with the commencement of the 2006 squad, Eastern Washington had recorded at least 19 consecutive losing seasons (results from the 1987 campaign are incomplete).
To compare and contrast, consider that the Eagles have gone 43-28 since the 2006 team began its season (15-6 in Big Sky Conference play) after finishing 6-52, 1-25 in league contests, in the four years immediately prior (2002-05).
Top-Notch Schedule for Eagles in 2009
The Eagles will take on top-notch competition this year, as the team has four nationally-ranked foes on its slate.
First up was 34th-ranked Washington Saturday (Jan. 10), who the Eagles fell to by a 7-0 score. Eastern will next face No. 66 Utah on Friday (Jan. 16).
The other two nationally-ranked foes for Eastern this year include No. 47 Denver (Jan. 23) and 70th-ranked BYU (March 27).
Each of those four contests take place on the road.
There are also four singles players and a pair of doubles tandems who are nationally ranked and scheduled to face Eagle opposition this year.
The singles players include No. 83 Corey Smith of Montana State (play Eastern on March 7 in Cheney), 84th-ranked David Simson of Denver, Sacramento State's No. 95 Kiryl Harbatsiuk (Feb. 20 in Cheney) and No. 115 Jason Smith of the Hornets.
In doubles, Sacramento State's Anton Stryhas and Harbatsiuk are ranked 30th nationally, while Northern Arizona has the No. 39 team in Chris Arena and Jaco Visagie (will play EWU in Flagstaff on April 4).