FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's tennis team will open Big Sky play this weekend when they travel to Greeley, Colo. to do battle against Northern Colorado in the final of two matches for the Lumberjacks. NAU will play at Northern Colorado on Sunday at 9 a.m. following a match at Air Force on Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Lumberjacks will look to bounce back from a narrow 4-3 loss to UC Riverside last Saturday where they fell despite winning at three of the top-four singles positions. Although NAU received singles wins from seniors Shaun Waters and Patrick Schimmelbauer and sophomore Kester Black to split the six singles match, its downfall was once again dropping the doubles point. The Lumberjacks are now 0-19 when falling behind in the match 1-0 via the doubles point since the start of the 2012 season.
"Last week was a good wake-up call for us losing to UCR," said men's tennis assistant coach Joseph Heckley. "We've had four days of really good practices and the guys are ready to take on Air Force and Northern Colorado. I'm really confident and we've worked on our doubles, mixing up our teams a little bit."
Waters and senior classmate Robert Martin continue to lead NAU's doubles pairs with a 4-3 record playing at the No. 1 position. Behind the Australian pair though, the Lumberjacks are just 3-7 as a team in doubles play. Schimmelbauer is currently pacing the team with three singles victories, while a quartet of Lumberjacks – Waters, Martin, Black and junior Dominic Bermudez – each have two wins apiece.
The Lumberjacks, picked sixth in the conference preseason coaches' poll, begin their quest towards returning to the Big Sky Championship tournament after a one-year absence in 2012 with Northern Colorado. The Bears enter the weekend 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the conference, falling to Montana State at home on Jan. 27 in their Big Sky opener. Brandon Lupo has been Northern Colorado's top player with a 4-1 record while serving as the Bears' No. 1 singles player.
A year ago, NAU defeated UNC, 5-2, in Greeley behind the doubles point and singles wins from Bermudez, Schimmelbauer, Waters and Martin and it is imperative that the Lumberjacks start off the conference season with a win.
"It's important because it sets the tone for the conference season," Heckley said. "It'll be good for the guys to get a W and start 1-0 and also to build momentum going forward and build some confidence."
Before they take on Northern Colorado, NAU will face Air Force, a team that beat the Lumberjacks 6-1 last season. The Falcons enter the weekend with a 6-4 record and owners of a three-match winning streak, including a 6-1 win over Northern Colorado on Feb. 10. The Falcons are led by Lance Wilhelm, who earned his first national ranking last week. Wilhelm, the No. 85 player in the country, is 8-1 this season in singles play. The all-time series between the two teams is tied at 3-3 after Air Force's win in 2012.
Fans can follow Saturday's action versus Air Force via the Falcons' live stats link here.