Eastern falls to No. 13 Washington on Friday, but rebounds with big win against Seattle on Saturday
It wasn't the first time this season junior Kyle Koetje had the weight of the match on his shoulders.
Just three weeks after clinching a match for EWU against cross-town rival Gonzaga, Koetje found himself in yet another must-win situation - this time against Seattle U. But the Arlington, Wash., native once again came through in the clutch, as the Eastern Washington University men's tennis team prevailed, 4-3, over Seattle on Saturday (March 10) at the Sammamish Club in Issaquah, Wash. It was Eastern's second victory this season against SU.
Eastern (9-5) also faced No. 13 Washington on its trip to the west side, but the Eagles fell to the Huskies, 7-0. Eastern's only five losses this year have come against teams that were, at one point or another during the season, ranked in the national polls.
After dropping the doubles point to Seattle U, Eastern was behind the eight ball heading into singles.
The Redhawks extended their lead when Mark Shkrebtan bested Ilija Cuic at No. 1, 6-2, 6-4. The Eagles managed to get a point back when sophomore Mario Navarro downed his opponent at No. 2 in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.
At No. 3 singles, sophomore James Russell started strong with a 6-4 victory in the first set. But the Kirkland, Wash., native stumbled in the subsequent sets, as SU's Simon Meske won the second 6-3 and the third, 6-1.
Now trailing 3-1 in the match, EWU had no room for error at No. 4, 5 and 6 singles. Senior Julian Sanchez was the next to finish at No. 4, as he outlasted his opponent in a dramatic three-setter. Sanchez opened the contest with a 6-4 win in the first, but then dropped the second set, 6-3. In the decisive third, Sanchez dug deep for a 6-3 decision.
Fellow senior Chad Henninger was able to even the score with his victory at No. 5. Henninger topped SU's Flavio Malagutti - a former Eagle - in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1.
So for the second time in three weeks, it would come down to Koetje at No. 6. Koetje was pitted against SU's Jason Bediones - the only Redhawk with a winning record in the 2011-12 season.
Despite the pressure, Koetje won the first set handily, 6-2. Bediones forced a tiebreaker in the second though, and it was a nail-biter to the very end. Koetje prevailed 8-6 in the tiebreaker to give EWU the hard-fought 4-3 victory.
On Friday against Washington, EWU had a commendable effort, but the Eags were overpowered by the 13th-ranked Huskies. UW won each of the six singles matches in straight sets, while also sweeping doubles.
Russell was able to take a few games from Marton Bots at No. 2, but he ended up losing, 6-3, 6-3. Koetje also played a competitive match at No. 6 before falling to UW's Skyler Tateishi, 6-4, 6-4.
Eastern will have more than a week off from competition before heading to California for a trio of matches over spring break. EWU will face Pacific on March 24, Fresno Pacific on March 25 and Big Sky perennial power Sacramento State on March 27.