Eastern Drops Narrow 4-3 Decision to Air Force, but Rebounds Well with Sweep of Northern Colorado

Eagles kick off conference play with dominating performance against Bears

The Eastern Washington men's tennis team had quite a successful trip to Colorado, as it played an extremely competitive match with Air Force before sweeping conference-foe Northern Colorado.

The Eagles fell to the USAFA Falcons, 4-3 on Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colo., and then rolled past UNC with a 7-0 decision on Sunday at the Work Out West tennis facility in Greeley.

For the fifth year in a row, Eastern won all seven matches against Northern Colorado. In fact, the Eagles did not drop a single set against the Bears in the their 2011 Big Sky debut.

Juniors Chad Henninger and Julian Sanchez defeated UNC's Robbie Edwards and Ryan Lane at No. 1 doubles, 8-5. Sophomore Kyle Koetje and junior Stefan Simikic had an easy 8-2 victory at No. 2, while freshman James Russell and sophomore Chris Eriksson also won with an 8-5 decision at No. 3.

"We are making great strides in doubles play," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "The guys are becoming more comfortable with one another and playing with a lot more confidence."

In singles, freshman Mario Navarro earned the nod to play at No. 1 against Brandon Lupo of Northern Colorado. Navarro won the match 6-2, 4-2 after Lupo was forced to retire due to injury.

At No. 2 singles, sophomore Fernando Mussolini won his first set 6-4, but went down early in the second to Ryan Lane. Mussolini rallied back from a 5-2 deficit to take the match 7-5.

Simikic did not lose a single game at No. 3 singles, defeating Robbie Edwards, 6-0, 6-0. Sanchez, Henninger and Koetje also won in straight sets at No. 4, 5 and 6, respectively.

Prior to Eastern's conference victory over the Bears, the team lost a heartbreaker to the USAFA Falcons.

Air Force is undefeated on the season, which includes victories over two other Big Sky schools in UNC and Montana State. Of all three Big Sky schools, the Eagles have had the closest match with the Falcons. Northern Colorado lost 6-1, and MSU fell 5-2.

Eastern captured the first point of the day after winning the doubles point with victories at No. 2 and No. 3. Erikkson and Russell was the first Eagle pair to finish, as they topped Alex Grubbs and Danny Gies, 8-5.

The Falcons evened the score with a victory at No. 1, but Koetje and Simikic would clinch the point for EWU with an impressive victory at the No. 2 spot. The Eagle duo outlasted USAFA in a tiebreaker, winning the match 9-8 (9-7).

Air Force was able to take over the lead after winning at No. 4 and No. 1 singles, but Simikic tied it back up at 2-2 when he defeated Lucas Marin-Salcedo, 7-5, 6-3.

Navarro was the next to finish, as was edged by Andy Jackson at No. 2 singles. The first set of their match went to a tiebreak, and Jackson needed 15 points to finally put it away. He then took the second set with a 6-3 decision.

"Mario played really well against Jackson," applauded Haworth. "That match could really have gone either way."

The Falcons clinched the match when Taylor Soster beat Henninger, 6-4, 6-1, but the Eagles would get one more tally, as Koetje held on to beat Steven Young, 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 at No. 6 singles.

"Kyle stayed completely composed throughout his match," said Haworth. "I was proud of his ability to maintain focus through all three sets, and get the big win."

The Eagles have two weeks off before their next competition against Gonzaga on Feb. 22.

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