STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION

Montana’s men’s tennis team will start the 2018 season picked to finish No. 4, and the Grizzly women are picked No. 8 this year in the annual Big Sky preseason poll, as selected by the league’s coaches.

Despite advancing to the Big Sky championship match last spring and posting the best fall season in program history, the men’s team is slated to come in fourth in the increasingly competitive league.

Montana picked up 96 points and one first-place vote, just two points shy of third place finisher Sacramento State, which tallied 98 points but no first-place votes.

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Idaho was picked to repeat as conference champions with nine first-place votes and 117 points, and Northern Arizona was selected to finish second with 111 points and a pair of first-place votes.

The Griz overcame a slow start to the 2017 season to upset No. 1 NAU in the conference tournament semifinal (4-3) and finish with a 14-9 overall record (7-4 BSC).

While noting the increased parity in the league this year, interim head coach Jason Brown says the No. 4 ranking will do nothing but give his experience-laden squad motivation.

“I like being the underdog,” said Brown. “I think this will put a little chip on the guys’ shoulders after the amazing fall they had and will motivate them to work that much harder.”

Montana returns three All-Big Sky performers from 2017 in junior Alexander Canellopoulos and senior Ignacio Tejerina, along with Canellopoulos’ doubles partner Yannick Schmidl.

2016 first-team all-conference standout Victor Casadevall also returns to lead the Griz after missing much of the tail end of 2017 with an injury. Casadevall was nothing but sublime for the Griz in the fall season, however, becoming the first Grizzly ever to advance to the quarterfinal round of the ITA Mountain Regional tournament.

The Montana women earned 51 points to come in at No. 8 in the preseason poll, just one point shy of No. 7 Weber State and four points shy of No. 6 Eastern Washington.

Idaho was also picked to win the women’s tournament this season with 120 points and 10 first-place votes. Northern Arizona was selected to come in second with two first-place votes, while Montana State was picked to come in third.

Despite the lower ranking, head coach Steve Ascher also thinks this year’s Big Sky title race is one of the tightest in recent memory.

“Filling out the preseason poll, I felt that there is more parity throughout the league then I’ve seen in a while,” said Ascher. “It will be exciting to see how things play out in reality, and are excited to get going this spring.”

The Grizzly women finished the 2017 campaign with a disappointing 2-9 league record but proved to be a team on the rise during the fall season.

Freshman Julia Ronney picked up two tournament wins in the fall, and fellow freshman Bianca Bostrom finished the season with a pair of semifinal appearances in singles and doubles (along with partner Cam Kincaid) at the Barb Chandler Classic in Boise, Idaho.

The Montana women are the first to open the new season, starting off with a doubleheader at home against Washington State on Jan. 26, followed by a match against the Iowa Hawkeyes the following day on Jan. 27 at the PEAK Racquet Club in Missoula.

The Grizzly men open their season on Feb. 9 and 10, hosting nonconference tune-ups against Lewis-Clark State and Montana State, also played at the PEAK.

Big Sky Men’s Preseason Poll

1 Idaho 117 (9)

2 Northern Arizona 111 (2)

3 Sacramento State 98

4 Montana 96 (1)

5 Weber State 73

6 Idaho State 72

7 Montana State 59

T8 Eastern Washington 45

T8 Southern Utah 45

10 Portland State 31

11 Northern Colorado 28

12 North Dakota 17

Big Sky Women’s Preseason Poll

1 Idaho 120 (10)

2 Northern Arizona 112 (2)

3 Montana State 90

T4 Idaho State 82

T4 Sacramento State 82

6 Eastern Washington 55

7 Weber State 52

8 Montana 51

9 Southern Utah 45

10 North Dakota 44

11 Northern Colorado 37

12 Portland State 22

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