FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's tennis team hosts Western Illinois in its first home match of the season on Saturday. Originally scheduled for 11 a.m. at Continental Country Club, but due to the weather forecasted in Flagstaff for Saturday, the match will now be held at Red Rocks High School in Sedona with match time set for 9 a.m.
The Lumberjacks enter Saturday's match coming off a 1-2 weekend in Las Vegas, Nev. with a win against Utah State and losses to No. 73 Ball State and UNLV. In spite of their record, the Lumberjacks saw improved play from the team after a tough 0-3 stretch, including conference losses to Weber State and Idaho State, the last time they competed two weeks prior.
"We can't let up, we just have to keep playing the way we're playing and go full speed ahead when we play Western Illinois," said assistant coach Joseph Heckley. "We've never played them before and we don't know what to expect so we're just going to have to go out there and play tough, play the way we know how to play."
In particular, the Lumberjacks saw progress in their doubles play, winning five of the nine doubles matches last weekend after going just 8-16 in doubles through their first eight matches to begin the season. The improvement could be attributed to a reshuffling of the doubles pairings with sophomore Dominic Bermudez and junior Patrick Schimmelbauer, at No. 2, and junior Robert Martin and senior Robin Pezzutto, at No. 3, played their first matches of the season together and combined for an even 3-3 record at the two spots. Freshman Trevor Unger and junior Shaun Waters played their second weekend together and went 2-1, and have now won three of their last four doubles matches at No. 1.
In singles play, Waters, the current Big Sky men's Player of the Week, led the Lumberjacks with a perfect 3-0 record, including his first two wins at No. 2 this season. Schimmelbauer also won two of his three matches at No. 4, as the pair combined for five of NAU's seven singles wins.
Western Illinois will come into Saturday's match for the first ever meeting between the two schools. The match will be the Leathernecks' second of the week following a 7-0 loss to Boston on Thursday pushing their record to 2-7. Ben Yue currently leads the team with a 4-5 singles record, 4-3 at No. 2, while Patrick Hammers is 3-6 at the No. 1 spot. The pair has also teamed up for a 3-4 record at No. 1 doubles.
Although the two schools have never met before, there will be one Lumberjack with familiarity with the Leathernecks. Senior Ben Lantz, a native of Rockford, Ill., has played several members of the Western Illinois squad, whose entire roster is composed of players within the state of Illinois, in the past providing him with a unique experience in his first home match of his final season here at NAU.
"It's my fourth year here and I haven't played anyone I've known ever so it feels great," Lantz said. "I know about four guys on the team and we played each other all throughout juniors. It's going to be a lot of fun seeing those guys and I think we have a really good chance. I've played those guys tough and I think everyone on the team can pull out some wins this weekend."
The home match will be the first of four consecutive home dates for the Lumberjacks after they opened the spring season with 11 straight matches on the road.