Jan. 20, 2009
The Eastern Washington University men's tennis team will wrap up its challenging stretch of seven matches, all on the road, the first 16 days of the 2009 campaign with three this weekend.
First up will be 47th-ranked Denver - that match begins at 6:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday (Jan. 23). The Eagles then play Air Force at 9 a.m. on Saturday (Jan. 24) before starting its Big Sky Conference schedule against Northern Colorado at 8 a.m. on Sunday (Jan. 25).
Denver and Northern Colorado open their seasons against Eastern (in fact, they are two of six opponents to start their respective 2009 campaigns versus EWU).
The Pioneers finished 18-7 last year and advanced to the first round of the NCAA Championship (one of only two 2009 EWU opponents to do so - Washington was the other).
Also, an Eastern player is slated to play Denver's David Simson, the 84th-ranked singles player in the NCAA Division I ranks.
Northern Colorado was 1-14 a year ago, 0-8 in Big Sky play.
Air Force is 0-2 after falling to Point Loma Nazarene 8-1 and UC Riverside 4-3 in its first two matches of the season. Saturday's contest will be the home opener for the Falcons, who went 10-15 a year ago, 0-6 in Mountain West Conference competition.
Last week, Eastern Washington responded to a 6-1 loss to 66th-ranked Utah to defeat Utah State 5-2 and improve to 2-2 on the season.
Dating to a year ago, the Eagles have won 10-of-13 matches. All three losses came on the road to nationally-ranked opposition.
Following this hectic beginning to its season, the Eagles will then take 23 days off from competition before playing at Gonzaga on Feb. 18.
Eastern returns six of its eight starters from a 2008 squad that won its first-ever Big Sky Conference championship. Six newcomers join the 2009 team.
The six returnees include four who earned All-Big Sky honors a year ago (Pannhara Mam, Nico Riego de Dios and Kyle Schraeder were each named to the first team, while Art Karas earned Honorable Mention accolades).
Also, seniors Karas, Mam and Schraeder are first, second and third, respectively (47, 43 and 39 wins apiece), on the career singles wins listing in the Eastern record book. Senior Daniel Pez is seventh (25), while Riego de Dios, a junior, is currently tied for the eighth slot with 23 victories.
Impressive Turnaround for Eagles
Before completely turning around its program with the 2006 squad, Eastern Washington had recorded at least 19 consecutive losing seasons (results from the 1987 campaign are incomplete).
To compare and contrast, consider that the Eagles have gone 44-29 since the beginning of the 2006 season (15-6 in Big Sky Conference play) after finishing 6-52, 1-25 in league contests, the four years immediately prior (2002-05).
Top-Notch Schedule for Eagles in 2009
The Eagles will take on top-notch competition this year, as the team has four nationally-ranked foes on its slate.
First up were 34th-ranked Washington on Jan. 10 and No. 66 Utah on Friday (Jan. 16), who the Eagles fell to by 7-0 and 6-1 scores, respectively.
The other nationally-ranked foes for Eastern this year are No. 47 Denver and 70th-ranked BYU, as the Eagles will pay visits to Colorado's capital city on Friday (Jan. 23) and Provo, Utah, on March 27.
Each of those four contests take place on the road.
There are also four singles players and a pair of doubles tandems who are nationally ranked and scheduled to face Eagle opposition this year.
The singles players include No. 83 Corey Smith of Montana State (play Eastern on March 7 in Cheney), 84th-ranked David Simson of Denver, Sacramento State's No. 95 Kiryl Harbatsiuk (Feb. 20 in Cheney) and No. 115 Jason Smith of the Hornets.
In doubles, Sacramento State's Anton Stryhas and Harbatsiuk are ranked 30th nationally, while Northern Arizona has the No. 39 team in Chris Arena and Jaco Visagie (will play EWU in Flagstaff on April 4).