FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Facing a must-win situation over the final three weeks of the regular season, the Northern Arizona men's tennis team embarks on its final road trip this weekend with matches at Montana State on Saturday and Montana on Sunday. The Lumberjacks are in need of victories the rest of the season after two more heartbreaking conference losses last week if they hope to put themselves in a position to qualify for the conference tournament.
"It's going to take all the guys playing together on the same day," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "Obviously Rob Martin has been solid for us, but it's been one or two guys here and one or two guys there and it's not even the same guys. Also it's key that we understand the big moments in a match and when those momentum shifts can go our way and not the way of our opponents which has been happening."
The Lumberjacks suffered a 5-2 defeat to Eastern Washington and a 4-3 loss to Big Sky leading Idaho State at home last week in matches that both came down to the second to final singles contest. Although NAU (3-15 overall) is 0-5 in conference play, it could easily have a few wins in their favor with four of the five losses coming at 4-3 with the exception being the Eastern Washington match. In all, eight of the Lumberjacks' 11 losses during their current 1-11 stretch have been of the 4-3 or 5-2 variety.
Senior Robert Martin has won his last four matches for a team-leading 9-8 record, but the Lumberjacks are looking for consistent play aside from him. They boast a number of candidates that have played well at different moments of the season including junior Dominic Bermudez and senior Patrick Schimmelbauer. Bermudez defeated both of his opponents a week ago in straight sets and improved to 4-1 in Big Sky play, a record he shares with Martin. Schimmelbauer cruised to a victory at No. 1 singles against Idaho State and the senior is 2-2 at the top position since moving up in the lineup two weeks ago.
Even though NAU dropped the doubles point in each of its matches last week, it competed in every match. The doubles play has strengthened as the season has progressed and large part can be attributed to the Lumberjacks' No. 2 pairing of Bermudez and Schimmelbauer. The duo is a perfect 4-0 in conference and has won seven straight matches to push their record to 8-1. Bermudez and Schimmelbauer's eight doubles wins are tied for fourth-most in the Big Sky.
"They know that victory is right there," Bruno said. "Obviously it's been frustrating. Winning is way more fun than losing 4-3 every match you play. But I think that they realize that we're right there, so let's see what we can do and keep our heads up. At this point we have nothing to lose, so let's move forward, go to Montana and play some tennis."
In search of their first Big Sky victory, the Lumberjacks head to Bozeman, Mont. first to play Montana State on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Bobcats (9-7 overall, 5-1 Big Sky) have not played since March 12 at Sacramento State, a 7-0 loss, but prior to that had won six of eight. Montana State is one of three teams in the conference with one conference loss heading into the weekend and has received strong play from Diego Campos and Markus Schleuter who have 11 and 10 singles wins respectively. The Lumberjacks were edged out last year by the Bobcats at home, 4-3, but had won the head-to-head meetings the two years prior.
Like Montana State, Montana enters the weekend with one loss in the conference at 5-6 overall and 4-1 against Big Sky foes. The Lumberjacks will play the Grizzlies in Missoula, Mont. on Sunday at 1 p.m. Montana's Mikolaj Caruk is 5-2 overall, 4-0 in conference, and has played all but one match at No. 1 singles position. Semion Branzburg leads the Grizzlies with six singles wins between the No. 4 and 5 spots. Montana has won five of the last six meetings over the last four years between the two teams and defeated NAU 6-1 last year in Flagstaff.