(Editor’s note: Story by Griz Communications)
MISSOULA – Riding the subway, hanging out in Times Square, and eating a slice the “right” way.
The Montana women’s tennis team ticked all the New York experience boxes on their trip East last week, and also picked up valuable on-court experience as well at the West Point Invitational at the United States Military Academy.
The Grizzlies were one of 20 teams at the Black Knight Invite, a field that provided some of the toughest opposition UM will see all year, including the five-time MAAC champion Quinnipiac Bobcats, 2018 ACC quarterfinalist Syracuse, and the defending Patriot League champion and tourney host USMA cadets.
While playing against some of the nation’s best in a completely foreign environment, head coach Steve Ascher says the long haul to West Point helped his team prepare for success this coming season.
“The level over there was higher and challenging. But it was helpful because we got to continue to adapt our expectations to different styles and different teams, which is necessary if we are to find success,” said Ascher.
“It was fun. Every match had different changes of strategy, what they needed to do, how they need to push themselves. I think they had fun, and were super receptive to it.”
Despite the steep competition, the Griz made some deep runs in the five-draw tournament that, due to rain, was moved primarily indoors, with singles matches played in pro-set format to save time.
UM’s dynamic duo of Julia Ronney and Bianca Bostrom – individually two of UM’s top doubles players last season – paired as a team for the first time in their careers and immediately found success. The sophomore pair picked up two wins in the A doubles bracket as the No. 8 seed to advance to the quarterfinals.
The sophomore duo defeated Stony Brook’s Ribeiro/Bekirova pair 6-2 in the first round, and Army’s Inchauste/Boubel pair 6-1 in the second round.
In the quarterfinal, Bostrom and Ronney held tough with eventual doubles champion pair Guzal Yusupova and Dina Hegab, the No. 1 seed out of Syracuse, eventually falling 6-4 in a close match.
“They were right in it. It was a great match, and good experience for them,” said Ascher.
In singles action, Grizzly freshman Alex Walker advanced to the semifinal of the C singles consolation bracket after falling to Sacred Heart’s Keira Tobia 8-3 in the opening round.
Walker picked up wins over players from Saint Francis and Colgate en-route to the semifinal, where she fell to Stony Brook’s Anastasia Koniaev 8-7(3) in the tiebreaker.
Ronney also picked up a win in the singles A bracket, defeating Samara Eisenberg of Binghamton 8-2 in the opening round. Freshman Claudia Reguant also earned a win in the singles D bracket over Colgate’s Elinor Simek.
After a short turnaround, the Grizzlies return to action this Friday in Spokane at the Gonzaga Invitational at the Stephens Tennis Center, Oct. 5-7.
With six teams and 45 total competitors, the Gonzaga Invite will be broken into five draws and two singles draws. Set to compete alongside the Griz are Idaho, Eastern Washington, Seattle, Montana State, and Washington.
Thanks to lessons learned at West Point, Ascher believes his Grizzlies are prepared for another difficult draw at Gonzaga as they prepare for the ITA Regional in Las Vegas on Oct. 10.
“They’re being totally receptive, they’re having fun, hanging out together. That’s what it’s about, the connectivity,” said Ascher.