(Editor’s Note: Story by Montana Sports Information)
PHOENIX, AZ – With the match on the line and trailing 40-0 in a third set tied at three, Montana senior Ignacio Tejerinaknew it was up to him if the Griz were going to advance at the Big Sky championship tournament.
“I said to Nacho, hey, this is going to be on you. You’ve been our clincher all season, and we wouldn’t want it any other way,” said UM interim head coach Jason Brown. “He looked at me and said, yeah, I want it too. Then he went out and won it.”
The Montana men’s tennis team endured a slow start and battled through adversity and injury to win a come-from-behind 4-3 thriller over Southern Utah in the quarterfinal of the conference championship in Phoenix on Thursday.
With the with, the Griz advance to the tournament semifinal for the second-straight year, and for the thirteenth time in program history with a 13-5 overall record on the season.
In the semifinal, the No. 3 Griz will now get a rematch with No. 2 Northern Arizona – the same team UM upset in 2017 to advance to the title match – starting at 3:30 p.m. (MT) on Friday, April 27.
Heading into the tournament Montana had been the best overall doubles team in the Big Sky during league play this season with a .741 winning percentage, but under the Arizona sun, the Griz couldn’t recover from a slow start, and it would cost them the crucial point.
In the oppressive heat of the desert, the Griz would pull out the win in a marathon singles round that saw four of the six matches extended into a third set. UM eventually clinched the win when Tejerina outlasted his opponent to seal the 4-3 victory.
“Hats off to Southern Utah. They played like a team that had nothing to lose and were excellent,” said Brown. “For us, everything that could go wrong in doubles did. We had a couple of deuce points that went the wrong direction and next thing we knew we’re in a hole. Momentum is a funny thing in sports.”
The Griz started well enough, with Victor Casadevall and Tejerina dominating on court one with an easy 6-3 win over SUU’s Tordoff/Morales pair- the same score they beat them by in the previous meeting. But on courts two and three it was a different story.
Ludvig Hallgren and Alexander Canellopoulos couldn’t overcome a slow start on court three, getting down 4-0 before dropping a 6-2 decision to the Cope/Tamagone pair to tie the round 1-1 with the point hanging on the result of the court two match.
Yannick Schmidl and Max Korkh then lost their first match of the season as a doubles pair, getting out to a 2-1 lead before stalling and dropping a 6-4 decision to SUU’s Feigin/Guerra pair, a duo they had defeated 6-4 at SUU in the first meeting.
Singles provided more challenges for UM, when Casadevall, the defending Big Sky player of the week, dropped his first match in the last seven outings to Jonathan Morales. Casadevall built a lead early in the first set, but Morales rallied to force a tiebreaker where he broke the UM senior with a 4-7 win. Casadevall couldn’t recover from the loss, falling 1-6 in the second set for a 6-7 (4-7), 1-6 loss.
“Morales came out and played lights out today. He was just fantastic. Victor has nothing to be ashamed of there,” added Brown.
Montana finally got on the board when Schmidl picked up the first win of the day for the Griz on court two. The senior from Germany ground out a first set tiebreaker before pulling away in the second 7-6 (7-0), 6-3.
Even though the Griz were on the board, the winning result wouldn’t come easy for either team, with the remaining four courts all going the distance to three sets.
After losing the first set convincingly 2-6, Korkh rebounded in a big way to tie the match at two with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 win on court five. It was the first match Korkh has rallied to win this season after losing the first set.
“Max got really confident in the second set and started playing big serve, big forehand tennis, which was great to see,” said Brown.
A short time later, Hallgren put the Griz ahead 3-2 in a see-saw match on court six, bouncing back from a tight 4-6 loss in the second set to take a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win.
But the T-Birds weren’t done. Over on court three Canellopoulos suffered a leg injury in the second set that led to SUU’s Pablo Guerra coming from behind to take a 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 win that tied the match at three.
With the pressure on, Tejerina put the team’s hopes of returning to the Big Sky championship on his shoulders and pulled out three-straight games in the third set to seal the win 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-3, and give the Griz the overall victory.
“That was a proud senior moment for him. He looked at us and said, yeah, give it to me,” said Brown. “That was a huge momentum shift. That last part of the third set he played some of the best tennis of the season, and he played like an absolute stud in the final game.”
Montana now will now rest up and hit the ice baths while turning its attention to an NAU squad that is determined not to let a repeat of last season’s upset happen. After gritting out a win over SUU, the Griz feel like they’re ready for anything.
“We’re battle-tested, and we’re focused,” said Brown. “We get to come out loose, and only good things can happen.”