(EDITOR’S NOTE: UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA MEDIA RELEASE)
MISSOULA – The Montana men’s tennis team will head to the Big Sky Championship Tournament for a record 28th-straight year, earning No. 3 seed after defeating Eastern Washington 5-2 on senior day at the Lindsay Tennis Center on the UM campus.
With the win, the Griz (12-5, 9-2 BSC) cement a perfect 7-0 home record and will now meet tournament debutant Southern Utah (15-9, 5-6 BSC) in the first round on April 26 at 2 p.m. (MT) at the Phoenix Tennis Center in Phoenix, Ariz. In their only previous meeting this year, Montana defeated the Thunderbirds 5-2 in Cedar City on April 7.
Against the Eagles, the Griz clinched the doubles point for the seventh time in eight matches and cruised to straight-set wins on courts two, three and five to secure the overall win on a sunny afternoon in Missoula.
Eastern is a good team,” said interim head coach Jason Brown. “The guys showed up, overcame the senior day emotion and fired right up. Doubles was good, and the guys shut the door in singles right away. Can’t ask for anything more.”
The senior duo of Victor Casadevall and Ignacio Tejerina got the Griz going in doubles by blanking EWU’s Paz/Field pair 6-0 on court one.
Alexander Canellopoulos and Ludvig Hallgren then clinched the point for UM with a 6-4 win over the Eagle’s Almeida/Pereira pair 6-4. Finishing at almost the same time, UM capped the round with senior Yannick Schmidl and Max Korkh taking a 6-3 win on court two to remain perfect this season at 8-0 as a doubles team.
In singles, Casadevall finished his conference season at 9-2 with a dominant 6-0, 6-2 win on court two over EWU’s Scott Paz, who was named the Big Sky Player of the Week twice this year.
Meanwhile, Schmidl, Montana’s two-time Player of the Week was locked in a stalemate with EWU’s Jeremy Field, who had also earned a weekly honor from the league this season. With his parents in town from Germany to cheer him on, Schmidl’s marathon match would be the last of the day to finish for the Griz, going to a tiebreaker in all three sets, finishing in UM’s favor 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (5-7), 1-0 (10-7).
Senior Zach Fisher got the senior day start in the lineup at No. 6 for the Griz, but he wasn’t able to capture the same magic last time he broke the lineup, falling to EWU’s Ricardo Almedia 6-1, 6-2 to make the overall score 2-1 UM.
Korkh and Canellopoulos then sealed the match for UM, each cruising to 6-3, 6-1 and 6-2, 6-0 wins, respectively to put UM up 4-1 with two matches still in play – including Scmidl’s.
The Grizzlies now head to Phoenix looking to return to the conference title match for a second-straight year.
They must first get by No. 6 Southern Utah, who has been one of the surprises of the league this year after being picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll. Portland State also makes its debut in the conference tourney as the No. 5 seed after being picked to finish tenth.
“If you look at the draw it might look easy, but it’s not going to be easy,” said Tejerina. “Southern Utah is a pretty tricky team. They have talented kids there. It’s going to be – how do you say – a dog war? A dogfight? That’s what it’s going to be.”
Last time they played each other, the Griz traveled to Cedar City and rebounded from a loss to NAU with a gritty 5-2 win over the Thunderbirds outdoors and at altitude.
“It will be interesting to play them a little closer to sea level in the heat. They were scrappy when we played them the first time, but I think we’re ready to go,” added Brown. “I think this momentum has really helped.”
At the very least Montana will have the advantage of playing a pair of outdoor matches before heading to the conference tournament this season. Last season, UM advanced to the finals in Phoenix having not played a single home match outdoors.
This year the Griz are used to the outdoor environment and are carrying a boatload of momentum but also have equally high expectations for themselves.
“I think it’s a huge help to have played some outdoor tennis. We’re healthy, and across the board, guys are playing really well. We can’t ask for a better series of prep matches. The pressure was on, they all counted, and our seeding came down to the last match, so it’s been nice.”
The men’s and women’s championships will take place from April 26-28. The men will play in the afternoon this year with quarterfinal and semifinal match times set for 1:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. local time. The championship match will take place at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday with the winner to receive the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Montana last advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2014, where the Griz fell to top-seed Oklahoma in Norman.
2018 Big Sky Championship Tournament
Quarterfinals – April 26
1:00 p.m. – No. 3 Montana vs. No. 6 Southern Utah
2:30 p.m. – No. 4 Weber State vs. No. 5 Portland State
Semifinals – April 27
1:00 p.m. – No. 1 Idaho vs. Lowest Remaining Seed
2:30 p.m. – No. 2 Northern Arizona vs. Highest Remaining Seed
Championship – April 28
1:00 p.m. – Winner of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Winner of Semifinal No. 2 Winner