MISSOULA – After a season with countless serves, returns and volleys, the pressure of every point goes up this week. Montana’s men head to the Big Sky Tennis Championships eyeing the crown in a wide open field.
Recent results send the the Grizzlies to Phoenix with some wind in their sails. Head coach Kris Nord’s crew won four of their final five conference matches, which included victories over three of the six teams in the Big Sky Tournament field.
And they did a lot of it without top singles player Victor Casadevall. The Spaniard injured his ankle three weeks ago. But he could return in time to give a confident team another boost.
“Over the last four years, we’ve lost a lot of matches 4-3, a lot of close matches,” said senior Peter Mimnagh-Fleming. “But to pull out those two wins against MSU and Eastern (Washington) away, without Victor, really showed some good character from the boys.”
“This year I think we have a really good chance,” added junior Yannick Schmidl. “Because compared to the last years there are some teams which have struggled during the regular season. And I think that we are the team that is rolling the most at the moment.”
Montana enters the bracket as the four seed. But they can confidently dream of number one. One player lived that dream three years ago. Mimnagh-Fleming was a freshman on the only Griz team to win a Big Sky championship in 2014.
“He’s been there. He’s done it,” said Nord. “He’s been around a successful group of seniors his freshman year, that were really good leaders. And I think he’s learned from those guys.”
“We know we’re good enough to win the tournament. And I want to stress that to these guys,” said Minagh-Fleming. “Even NAU and Idaho, teams we’ve lost to, we can beat them for sure. We lost 4-3. So I want to make sure we all believe that we can win. And then just maintain focus, not look ahead. I think we’ve looked ahead a little bit too much recently. We’re always looking ahead, oh if we win this, instead of just maybe focusing on the match at hand.”
The first match at hand starts serving at 12:30 Thursday in Phoenix. Montana takes on 5-seed Idaho State. The Griz beat the Bengals 6-1 earlier this year, but many of the singles matches were very close.
6-seed Montana State opens versus 3-seed Sacramento State. Number 1 Northern Arizona and number 2 Idaho have byes in the first round.