FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – On the heels of a disappointing spring a year ago, the Northern Arizona men's tennis team is ready to turn the page as they embark on the 2013 spring season beginning on Friday against in-state Pac-12 rival Arizona. Friday's match will be the first of two in Tucson this weekend for the Lumberjacks as they'll also duel with Nevada in a neutral site match on Saturday.
"We look really solid and we're ready to go," said assistant men's tennis coach Joseph Heckley. "Everyone's on the same page and training hard and we're focused on the start of the spring season. We're excited to go down to Tucson and get things rolling."
Although the Lumberjacks failed to qualify for the Big Sky Championship after finishing 2012 with a 6-16 overall mark and a 2-6 record in the Big Sky, both of which were their worst totals since 2006, they return four of their top six players and five players total from a year ago. Led by junior Dominic Bermudez, a 2012 All-Big Sky second team selection, the Lumberjacks were picked sixth in the conference preseason poll released earlier this week. The top-six teams, up from the top-four, at the end of the season will clinch berths in the Big Sky Championship with the addition of Southern Utah and North Dakota into the conference.
Bermudez enters his junior season after a stellar sophomore campaign in which he earned his first career all-conference honor. Serving as the team's primary No. 3 singles player, he led the team in victories, posting a 12-9 singles record and a 7-1 mark against Big Sky opponents. Bermudez was one of just seven players to compile at least seven conference victories and he had the conference's second highest overall winning percentage at the No. 3 spot among players that played at least eight matches there.
Bermudez, a Tucson native, will be flanked by a trio of returning seniors in Patrick Schimmelbauer, the team's only four-year player, Shaun Waters and Robert Martin. Waters, Schimmelbauer and Martin played primarily at the No. 2, 4 and 5 spots respectively last season. Along with Bermudez, the quartet will be counted on to replace the loss of Robin Pezzutto, the Lumberjacks' No. 1 singles player, who completed his eligibility in 2012.
Waters in particular had an impressive fall season, recording a team-best 4-3 mark and reached the round of 16 of the singles main draw at the USTA/ITA Mountain Regional Championships in October.
"I can really see Dominic stepping up and having a better season than last year," Heckley said. "He's the type of guy that keeps improving and I see him doing a lot of damage this spring. Shaun, Pat and Rob are seniors and they know that and they want to end on a positive note. The four of them are focused and that spreads to everyone else and that's why I'm excited for the spring."
Sophomore Trevor Unger and three newcomers to the team – junior Alan Barrios, sophomore Kester Black and freshman Sarp Laleli – round out the NAU roster and are all expected to create depth and flexibility to the lineup. As a freshman last season, Unger split time at the No. 6 singles spot, but was used primarily with Waters to form the No. 1 doubles pair. Black, a transfer from Wichita State where he played at both the No. 5 and 6 singles spots, and Barrios, a transfer from Pima Community College where he was ranked as high as No. 14 in the JUCO singles rankings, bring experience at the collegiate level while Laleli comes to Flagstaff from Turkey where he was the U-18 doubles champion.
The Lumberjacks will open the spring with the Wildcats for the second consecutive season. Arizona came away with a 7-0 victory last year in the season opener for both teams en route to a 5-18 season. They return seven players including Bermudez's brother, Carlos Bermudez who is entering his sophomore season. In last year's meeting Dominic Bermudez and Martin claimed NAU's only victory, defeating Carlos Bermudez and Mario Urquidi at No. 3 doubles. The Wildcats sport the ITA Southwest Region's preseason No. 7 doubles pair in Sumeet Shinde and Kieren Thompson and the No. 20 singles player in Andre Vidaller.
On Saturday, NAU will face Nevada for the first time since the Wolf Pack edged out a 4-3 victory in 2009. Nevada, after an 11-11 campaign last spring, defeated UC Irvine, 6-1, in their season opener on Tuesday. Like the Wildcats, Nevada features a regionally-ranked singles player and doubles pair in the ITA Mountain Region preseason rankings. Victor Ouvrard is the region's No. 10 singles player and he is also one half of the No. 7 doubles team with Fernando Sunago.
Both matches will be played at UA's LaNelle Robson Tennis Center. Friday's match against Arizona is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.
2013 Big Sky Preseason Poll (First Place Votes in Parentheses)
1. Sacramento State – 99 (9)
2. Montana – 91 (2)
3. Eastern Washington – 74
4. Weber State – 68
5. Idaho State – 66
6. Northern Arizona - 58
7. Montana State – 53
8. Northern Colorado – 36
9. Portland State – 30
10. North Dakota – 17
11. Southern Utah – 11