FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Entering the final two weekends of the regular season, the Northern Arizona women's tennis team is playing some of its best tennis all season. Sandwiched between two losses to nationally-ranked opponents, the Lumberjacks handed two Big Sky opponents their first conference losses of the season with dominating play two weeks ago. The Lumberjacks will look to take that momentum with them to the state of Washington this weekend for three matches beginning with No. 30 Washington State on Friday in Pullman, Wash.
"We're really looking forward to these next couple of weekends," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "I think coming off these past couple of weekends, we've proven how much better we've gotten as a team and we're competing at a higher level. We're going to go out to Washington State with nothing to lose and compete at that high level. Our whole point is to build for Eastern Washington (on Sunday) this whole weekend."
Two weeks ago when the Lumberjacks were last in action, they wrapped up their home schedule with wins over Montana, 4-3, and Montana State, 5-1, when both entered Flagstaff with an unbeaten conference mark. While the Lumberjacks did not play doubles against Montana State, they swept all three doubles matches against Montana and took eight of the combined 12 singles matches against their two Big Sky rivals.
Juniors Ghizelene Doballah, who earned Big Sky women's Player of the Week for her performance that weekend, and Malia Wahinepio won both of their singles matches against the Grizzlies and the Bobcats, while all six singles players earned at least one win in the two matches. The Lumberjacks also played No. 72 Oregon that weekend, and despite a 6-1 loss, the Lumberjacks played well particularly in the second sets of their singles matches. Junior Alice Pacaut came away with a three-set win against the Pac-12 powerhouse and matched Doballah and Wahinepio with two wins that weekend.
In all, Pacaut and freshman Johanna Vang are tied for the team-lead with eight singles wins apiece. They lead the balanced Lumberjack lineup which features five players with at least seven singles wins. The Lumberjacks have been extremely impressive against conference opponents, posting a 26-10 singles mark in conference matches, with Doballah, Vang and Wahinepio all sporting a 5-1 record in Big Sky play.
The Cougars will be the Lumberjacks' second consecutive nationally-ranked Pac-12 opponent and enter Friday's match with a 15-5 record. They are led by their nationally-ranked one-two punch at the top of their lineup in Liudmila Vasilieva, ranked No. 48 in the nation, and Elisabeth Fournier, ranked No. 125. Vasilieva is 15-5 this spring, 12-5 at the No. 1 spot, and Fournier leads the team with a 16-4 record, 14-3 at No. 2. All together, the Cougars have seven different players with at least eight singles wins, five of whom have double-digit victories. The Lumberjacks will be in search for their first all-time win against Washington State, as their most recent loss to the Cougars, 6-1 in 2010, dropped their record to 0-5 against WSU.
Following Friday's match, the Lumberjacks will play another non-conference match against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash. on Saturday and then conclude their weekend with their second-to-last Big Sky match of the season against Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash. on Sunday.
Gonzaga is 7-5 entering the weekend and is led by Sophie Lantta's 7-5 singles record. The Lumberjacks are 3-0 all-time against the Bulldogs. Most importantly this weekend though will be Eastern Washington, who is 3-11 to begin the week. Sunday's match will be the last of three consecutive Big Sky matches for them this week as they are 1-2 in the conference while vying for a spot in the conference tournament. Moira Hedberg is 7-7 this spring, 6-7 at No. 1 singles and was the Big Sky women's Player of the Week three weeks ago. NAU is 12-1 all-time against Eastern Washington and has won 12 straight meetings against the Eagles since dropping the first match in the series in 1988.
Play against No. 30 Washington State will commence at 11 a.m. on Friday in the Hollingbery Fieldhouse. Live stats will be available through wsucougars.com and will be provided when the link becomes available.