Eagles Host Gonzaga in Final Non-Conference Duel before April Fools Matchup with Sac State

A month removed from conference competition, Eastern dives back in against perennial power Sacramento State

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The Eastern Washington University men's tennis team returns home this week for two competitive matches against non-conference foe Gonzaga and Big Sky leader Sacramento State. The Eagles take on GU Tuesday (March 29) at 5 p.m. at the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse in Cheney, Wash. Eastern will host Sac State on Friday (April 1) at 2 p.m. in the team's first league match in nearly a month.

Earlier this season, the Eagles battled GU in Spokane and prevailed with a narrow 4-3 decision. Eastern won the doubles point against Gonzaga with a sweep of the first three matches. The Bulldogs won at No. 1, 3 and 5 singles, but it was not enough as Mario Navarro, Julian Sanchez and Chad Henninger helped clinch the match with victories at 2, 3 and 6 singles, respectively.

Since that meeting on Feb. 22, Gonzaga has won three of its last five outings, including a 4-3 victory over Montana State. The Bulldogs have two players with winning records in Zhia Hwa Chong and Levin Guillermo, who have earned a combined 24 singles wins on the year. In doubles, Chong and partner Scott Sullivan lead the team with a 14-11 overall record.

Eastern is 8-11 on the season after dropping its three most recent matches at the Boise State Spring Break Classic. The Eagles lost to No. 61 Boise State, Portland and Marquette at the event. But Eastern was unable to demonstrate its greatest strength at the tournament, as all doubles matches were eliminated unless needed to break a tie from singles. The Eagles, who have won 62 percent of its doubles matches overall this season and 80 percent in conference, are looking forward to getting back into a normal dual-match routine.

"We have seen a lot of success this year with our doubles lineup," said EWU head coach Darren Haworth. "The team has worked hard in that area and takes a lot of pride in winning the doubles point in matches. We are definitely excited to get back on our home courts and get back to playing doubles after a week off from it."

Following Eastern's rematch with Gonzaga, EWU will take on a team that has proved to be the toughest squad in the Big Sky for at least the last decade. The Hornets of Sacramento State have won five-consecutive Big Sky regular-season titles and have played in the NCAA Tournament in six of the last 10 years.

The Hornets are atop the current Big Sky standings with a perfect 6-0 record. Eastern is fifth at 3-2 behind second-place Weber State (3-1) and third-place Northern Arizona (2-1) and Montana State (2-1). The Hornets have swept Eastern in back-to-back regular-season meetings, but in the 2008 Big Sky Championships, EWU upset Sac State 4-3 to win the tournament title and advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.  

Sacramento State is led by senior Kiryl Harbatsiuk, who is ranked among the top 30 singles players in the nation. Harbatsuik, a native of Minsk, Belarus, owns a 17-2 record at No. 1 singles. His only losses came against No. 24 Daniel Nguyen of USC and No. 10 Bradley Klahn of Stanford.

Eagle Tennis News & Notes

Dominating Doubles: As a team, Eastern has won 62 percent of its doubles matches this season, which includes an impressive 12-3 mark in conference play. The Eagles have won the doubles point in four of five Big Sky matches this season, while Eastern's No. 2 doubles team is undefeated in conference at 5-0. The Eagles did not have a chance to play doubles in its three most recent matches at the Boise State Spring Break Classic, but prior to that tournament, Eastern had won the doubles point in five of its last seven matches.

Eriksson/Russell Etch Names in Record Book: Eastern's No. 3 doubles team of sophomore Chris Eriksson and freshman James Russell have made their way into the EWU single-season record book. On March 21, Eriksson and Russell earned their ninth doubles victory of the season when they beat UCSB's Evan Jurgensen and Alexander Gryaznov in a tiebreaker, 9-8. With that victory, the Eagle pair became one of just 11 doubles teams in school history to record at least nine wins in a single season. Eriksson and Russell own a 9-2 overall mark in the 2011 campaign and are 4-1 in conference action.

Eastern's No. 2 Pair Perfect in Conference:  Juniors Julian Sanchez and Chad Henninger are undefeated in Big Sky doubles play this season. The duo has won five-straight outings at No. 2 doubles, and have won eight of its last 10 overall  doubles matches. The Eagle pair defeated UNC, 8-5, ISU, 8-3 and was the only doubles team to record a win against Weber State, as it outlasted the Wildcats in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (7-5). Sanchez and Henninger also recently defeated Montana State (8-2) and Montana (8-6).

Simikic 'Holds Serve' Against Montanas: Junior Stefan Simikic had a nearly flawless weekend at home against Montana State (March 5) and Montana (March 6). He won both his singles matchups and went 1-1 in doubles action. Simikic was one of only two Eagles to win a singles match against MSU, as he defeated Diego Campos Contreras in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2. The following day, Simikic helped Eastern to a huge 5-2 victory over Montana when he beat Andrew Warren also in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3. He helped EWU secure the doubles point with an 8-6 victory at No. 1. Simikic is 7-7 overall on the year and 3-2 in Big Sky outings. He has won three of his last four singles matches.

Sanchez Wins Three in a Row at No. 3: EWU junior Julian Sanchez won three-consecutive matches at the No. 3 spot. He is 5-2 overall on the year when playing at No. 3 singles. Sanchez celebrated a perfect weekend in league play when beat Weber State and Idaho State on Feb. 25 and 27, respectively. He was the only Eagle to record a win against WSU, as he topped P. Ramstromer Pello in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3. The very next day, he bested Dakota Pate of ISU, 7-5, 6-3. Sanchez also has wins at No. 3 against Whitworth, Whitman and Gonzaga, while his two other wins this season came while playing No. 4 singles against Idaho and Northern Colorado.

Koetje Dominates No. 6 Singles: EWU sophomore Kyle Koetje has won five of six matches at No. 6 singles. Two of his five victories came in conference play, as he topped Northern Colorado, 6-2, 6-2 and helped Eastern win a close match against Montana with his 6-4, 6-2 victory at No. 6. He has also defeated the No. 6 player from Whitman, Air Force and Seattle.

Altimires Makes Eastern Debut: Freshman Luis Altimires from Terrassa, Spain played in his first-career match for EWU last weekend at the Boise State Spring Break Classic. Altimires debuted at No. 6 singles against the Golden Eagles of Marquette (March 26). Although he lost the match, 6-4, 6-3, Altimires was impressive, winning seven games throughout the two-set affair.

Bears No Match For Eagles: Since Northern Colorado became a member of the Big Sky Conference during the 2006-07 season, the EWU men's tennis team has not dropped a single match to the team from Greeley. EWU has swept UNC, 7-0 in each of the last five years. This year, Eastern played Northern Coloardo in its Big Sky debut on Feb. 6 and did not lose a single set to the Bears.

Eagles Tabbed Fifth in 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.

BSC Preseason Poll    2010 Record    
School (first-place votes)   Total Points   Big Sky Overall  
Sacramento State (7) 63 7-1 17-12  
Northern Arizona (1) 53 6-2 13-9  
Montana (1) 47 6-2 9-7  
Weber State 42 6-2 10-13  
Eastern Washington 40 3-5 7-14  
Portland State 31 4-4 7-10  
Montana State 24 3-5 7-16  
Idaho State 15 1-7 1-12  
Northern Colorado 9 0-8 1-15  

Mussolini Wins Initial Big Sky POW Honors: Sophomore Fernando Mussolini was honored as the first tennis Big Sky Player of the Week for the 2011 season. This is the second weekly award for Mussolini, as he was also recognized by the league on Feb. 24, 2010. Mussolini, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, went 2-0 at No. 1 singlesduring the week, which included one of the biggest victories in Eastern Washington men's tennis history. Mussolini defeated Idaho's Marius Cirstea, who is ranked 57th in the nation and 17th in the mountain region. Mussolini beat Cirstea in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5. He is the first player under head coach Darren Haworth to beat a nationally-ranked player (top 100), and believed to be the first Eagle to do so since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I.

Eastern Returns Two 10-Win Players from Last Season: Sophomore Fernando Mussolini and junior Chad Henninger were the only two players to record double-digit wins in 2010. Mussolini finished the year with a 10-11 record, playing primarily at No. 3 singles. Henninger finished at 10-5 overall with equal outings at the No. 4 and No. 5 positions. Henninger, a native of Eugene, Ore., was also Eastern's most successful doubles player in 2010, garnering 14 wins throughout the year.

Five New Faces for 2011: The 2011 EWU men's tennis roster includes five new members from a year ago, including three international students. Among the newcomers is James Russell, a freshman from Kirkland, Wash. and Chris Eriksson, a sophomore-transfer from Saint Louis University. Head coach Darren Haworth also added three talented players from outside the US, including Mario Navarro, a native Barcelona, Spain, Luis Altimires from Terrassa, Spain, and Ilija Cuic from Zagreb, Croatia.

Sanchez in EWU Single Season and Career Record Book: Junior Julian Sanchez is the only active Eagle who appears in both the single season and career record book. As a freshman in 2009, Sanchez garnered 13 wins, which was enough to be included in the top 15 players in Eastern history in terms of single-season wins. In his career, Sanchez has compiled 28 total wins in singles play, which ranks eighth in the EWU career record book.

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