Men’s Tennis Opens Season With Doubleheader in Spokane

Eagles excited to explore depth of roster in 2011

After an invaluable fall season, in which the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team met several opponents from the Big Sky Conference and other top competition from around the region, the Eagles are ready to hit the ground running in 2011.

The Eagles open their season this weekend with a doubleheader in Spokane on Saturday (Jan. 15). Eastern is set to play NCAA Division III Whitworth at Whitworth at 10 a.m., followed by a matchup with Pac 10 powerhouse Oregon at the Spokane Athletic Club in the Valley at 4 p.m.

 "These early-season competitions are just about getting the guys as much match play as possible to get us ready for conference," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth, who enters his third season at the helm of the program.

The 2011 squad of 10 members will certainly have a chance to do that, as it has five matches scheduled in the next three weeks. The Eagles will play another doubleheader in Cheney on Jan. 22 against Whitman and Idaho.

EAGLES FIFTH IN 2011 BIG SKY PRESEASON COACHES POLL

The Eagle men's tennis team earned 40 points in the 2011 preseason coaches poll, good for fifth place in the rankings. EWU returns six players from the 2009-10 squad that earned a 7-14 overall record and 3-5 mark in conference play.

Sacramento State is the favorite for the 2011 season, having earned 63 total points and seven of nine first-place votes by the coaches. Northern Arizona and Montana followed in the poll at second and third, respectively, while Weber State garnered two more points than Eastern to claim fourth place. EWU's Big Sky season commences on Feb. 6 against Northern Colorado, who was tabbed ninth by the coaches.

"Every team in the conference is pretty tough this year, especially with the players who are higher up in the lineups," said Haworth. "It is going to be very important to get one or two wins a those positions. We are excited about the depth of our team, but we are still waiting to see who can step up and get those big wins for us. It could be anyone."

2011 SEASON OUTLOOK

Unlike last year's roster that consisted of mainly freshmen and sophomores, the 2011 Eagles boast an experienced and versatile squad that is looking to reclaim its status as one of the top teams in the Big Sky. The Eagles captured the Big Sky title in 2008, and finished second in 2009. Last year, the team tied for sixth with its 3-5 league record.

In addition to the six returners, Haworth added four new faces to the 2011 team, all of whom bring a great deal of competitive experience.

"This year's squad has a lot of talent and a lot of potential," said Haworth. "We have 10 players who are all capable of playing in the top six at any given time.  I feel we could put our No. 9 or 10 player in at No. 6, and he could definitely get a win. I don't know if we have ever had that kind of depth before. "

Highlighting the list of returners for EWU are juniors Stefan Simikic and Julian Sanchez and sophomore Fernando Mussolini.

In his first year with the Eagles in 2010, Simikic played primarily at the No. 2 singles spot, where he earned a 6-13 overall record. He won five of his first nine matches of the year, including back-to-back wins against Northern Colorado and Idaho. During the 2010 fall season, Simikic had an impressive showing at the Boise State Fall Classic, advancing to the quarterfinals of singles play, and then claiming the doubles consolation title with teammate Flavio Malagutti.

"Stefan has a huge game," said Haworth. "On any given day, he can take down big players with his big serve and tough returns. We will definitely rely on him to pick up some wins in the top four."

Sanchez, one of the senior-most members of the team, will begin his junior campaign after an impressive fall season. Sanchez took home the singles consolation title at the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate. He also celebrated a huge win at the ITA Regionals, beating the No. 1 player from UC-Davis in three sets, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3.

"Julian is coming off a really, really great fall," said Haworth. "He has worked extremely hard over the past few years, and has slowly moved his way up in our lineup. He had a tremendous freshman season at No. 5/6 singles, and has continued to improve since then in terms of consistency and power."

Sophomore Fernando Mussolini had similar success during the 2010 fall season, and will look to make an impact as one of Eastern's top players in 2011. He made it through to the quarterfinals at the Boise State Fall Classic after winning three-straight matches in the most competitive singles bracket. At the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate, Mussolini again won three-consecutive matches to advance to the finals of the consolation bracket.

"Fernando had a great freshman season, and is coming off a really strong fall," commended Haworth. "I expect him to do some damage in the top three spots this season."

As a freshman in 2010, Mussolini recorded 10 wins at No. 3 singles, which tied the most victories for any player during the season. He was also EWU's top performer in conference, winning five of eight league matches.

Junior Chad Henninger and sophomores Kyle Koetje and Flavio Malagutti also return for the 2011 campaign. They will be joined by sophomore-transfer Chris Eriksson and freshmen Luis Altimires, James Russell and Mario Navarro.

Eriksson, a transfer from Saint Louis University in Missouri, comes to Eastern with a great deal of match play under his belt. As a freshman with the Billikens in 2010, Eriksson played primarily at the No. 4 singles spot, finishing the year with a 6-8 overall record. He went 9-5 on the year in doubles play.

"Chris has been performing really well in practice the last month and a half," praised Haworth. "I am looking for him to make a strong debut in doubles."

Haworth is also expecting significant production out of freshman Navarro, who comes to Eastern from Barcelona, Spain.

"Mario comes in with a lot of international experience," said Haworth. "He is an older freshman who plays with a lot of confidence."

Altimires, a native of Terrassa, Spain, also gained valuable experience on the international circuit during his preparatory years.

Russell joins the Eagle family from the West side of the state. He is a 2010 graduate Bellevue Chrisitian High School, and a two-time state championship qualifier. He took fifth in 2009 and second in 2008 in boys singles play at the Washington State Tennis Championships. He was also a five-time Pacific Northwest Zonal/National team member.

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