SEASON OUTLOOK: Eagles Eager To Begin 2009-10 Season

Note: The Eastern Washington University men's tennis team opens up the 2009-10 dual-match season this Sunday (Jan. 31) against Lewis-Clark State College at EWU's Thorpe Fieldhouse, beginning at 12 p.m. The Eagles will then play five straight road games before returning home on Feb. 20 to take on Northern Colorado.

Upcoming Schedule

Date - Opponent - Time/Pacific
Jan. 31 - Lewis-Clark State College at EWU's Thorpe Fieldhouse - 12 p.m.

Eagles look to continue recent success with young team in 2009-10

By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information

Ask any member of the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team if they are ready to get the dual-match portion of the 2009-10 season underway. Chances are you will get the same answer from all of them - a resounding yes. The Eagles will get their season off and running on Sunday, Jan. 31 at 12 p.m. against Lewis-Clark State in the Thorpe Fieldhouse on the EWU campus.

Not only are the Eagles starting their season later than they have the last couple of years, but the Eastern roster is filled with young talent ready to showcase their skills at the highest level. The Eagle roster is made up of five true freshmen, four sophomores and a lone senior, Nico Riego de Dios.

Despite having just one upperclassman on the roster, head coach Darren Haworth sees the potential for the upcoming season.

"Our main goal for this season is to make the conference tournament," said Haworth. "We are young and a little inexperienced but have the potential to do some damage. The guys have been training harder than ever and are ready to get the season underway."

The Eagles are coming off back-to-back 18 win seasons, including a Big Sky Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007-08.

The young Eagle squad was able to gain some invaluable experience in the fall portion of the schedule. Eastern first competed in the EWU/GU Classic from Oct. 2-4 on the Eastern campus.

Riego de Dios had the strongest play in the classic, advancing to the semifinal round in singles play while teaming with Stefan Simikic to earn a berth in the doubles quarterfinals. Julian Sanchez was also impressive, as he won two singles matches to advance to the quarterfinals.

Next up for the Eagles was the ITA Regionals in Berkeley, Calif., from Oct. 23-25. Riego de Dios won three singles matches, and Chad Henninger earned a valuable win against Sacramento State. In their last tune up of the fall, the Eagles participated in the PNW Intercollegiates in Seattle, Wash., from Nov. 6-8. Many of the younger EWU players performed well and picked up singles victories.

"The fall season was a good opportunity for the guys to get some match experience under their belts," said Haworth. "We got to compete against some of the top players in the country. This is great for the guys because they aren't used to seeing that kind of pace on serves. Overall, the fall serves as an opportunity for the team to make all the necessary adjustments before the season starts and I think that was accomplished this fall."

Riego de Dios, from Olongapo City, Philippines, is the team's lone senior in 2009-10. Riego de Dios had 17 singles wins and 18 doubles victories last season, and enters 2009-10 with a chance to move up in the program's record books.

Riego de Dios was first team All-Big Sky Conference selection and his 17 singles wins are tied with former teammate Art Karas for the second-most singles victories in a single season. His 18 doubles wins with former teammate Kyle Schraeder ranks first in program history for the most in a single season. Riego de Dios enters the season with 36 career singles victories, which is currently fifth all-time.

"We have great leadership this year with Nico Riego de Dios," said Haworth. "Nico leads by example and has been our best singles player for the last two years. He is a very talented baseliner who is known for grinding his opponents into the ground. We can expect big things from Nico this season."

Sanchez, a sophomore from Ciudad Real, Spain, had a very successful 2008-09 season as a true freshman. Sanchez went 13-2 in singles matches, including a perfect 6-0 in Big Sky play, and was a combined 7-9 in doubles matches with three different partners.

"Julian worked very hard to get in great physical shape," said Haworth. "He did very well at the No. 5 and No. 6 singles spots last season. He hits harder than just about anyone in the conference."

Simikic, a sophomore from Laguna Niguel, Calif., transferred to the Eagle program from Boise State after last season. Simikic redshirted the 2007-08 season at BSU, and saw limited action in 2008-09 while posting a 1-2 singles record and a 2-2 doubles record with the nationally-ranked Broncos.

"Stefan transferred in from Boise State where he was practicing with some of the top players in the country," said Haworth. "He has a very hard serve and should win a lot of free points off of it. He has a great attitude and has been a nice addition to the team."

Kevin Anderson, a sophomore from Scottsdale, Ariz., went 3-3 in singles action last season. He also went a combined 11-4 in doubles matches, including a 7-1 record when teamed up with former teammate Art Karas.

"Kevin was a staple in the doubles lineup last year playing primarily at the No. 3 spot," said Haworth. "When he serves well he is able to utilize his good volleys to be lethal at the net. He is also looking to improve on some solid singles play he showed during the fall."

The fourth sophomore on the roster is Henninger. Henninger, from Eugene, Ore., went 9-6 in singles play last season and went a combined 4-2 in doubles play.

"Chad saw some playing time last season and has worked his way into the lineup this season," said Haworth. "He had a strong fall with a few great matches. He has a big forehand and can use it to finish points from anywhere on the court."

The Eagles managed to add two talented players from Brazil to the roster in Fernando Mussolini and Flavio Malagutti.

"Fernando is a very talented baseline player," said Haworth. "He is one of our freshmen that has earned his way into the starting singles and doubles lineup. There is no doubt he will be one of the strongest freshmen in the conference."

"Flavio is also a talented baseline player. He is hands down the hardest worker on the team and has pushed the others to follow his lead. I expect him to be a major contributor in the years to come."

The Eagles also added an in-state product in freshman Kyle Koetje, who hails from Stanwood, Wash. Koetje is the only player from the state on the roster.

"Kyle has been a big surprise for us," said Haworth. "He has improved dramatically over the last few months and has also worked his way into the lineup. He is a great athlete with a very steady all-around game. I look forward to working with him over the next few years."

Freshman Tarun Kishan joins the Eagle program by way of Mississauga, Ontario.

"Tarun is super fast and has added some great depth to the team," said Haworth. "He is still learning to become a more consistent player and when he does he should look to make an impact."

Evan Buchanan, a freshman from Visalia, Calif., has been injured to begin his first collegiate season.

"Evan has been injured from the start of the season, but once he is healthy look for him to push for a starting role," said Haworth.

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