Eagles Battle Grizzlies in Big Sky Home Opener

Eastern hosts Montana Saturday in what is expected to be another nail-biting conference duel

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The Eastern Washington University women's tennis team has only one match on tap this weekend against the familiar foe of Montana. The Eagles will host UM on Saturday (Feb. 26) in the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse in Cheney, Wash. The match is scheduled to get underway at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

As is the case with most other EWU sports teams, the women's tennis match on Saturday against the Griz is expected to be a heated one, especially considering the outcomes in recent years. Over the past six seasons, the results between Eastern and Montana have taken on a particularly interesting pattern. It seems that every other year since 2005, Montana will beat Eastern by the exact same score Eastern beat Montana in the previous season. In 2005, the Eags won, 5-2. In 2006, they lost, 2-5. In 2007, the Eags won, 5-2 and in 2008, they lost 2-5. The trend has continued in recent seasons, as EWU won in 2009 by a score of 4-3, but only to be topped by Montana the next year by the exact same score.

As it happens, the Eagles should be the victor in Saturday's matchup with UM, but unfortunately, that is no guarantee.

Eastern is 5-6 in the 2011 campaign and 1-1 in conference play. Eastern won its first Big Sky match of the year against Idaho State (4-3), but then fell to Weber State the following day, 6-1.

The Grizzlies are 2-0 in the league play, and 3-5 overall on the year. Montana has already defeated Northern Colorado and Portland State, both by a 6-1 decision.

The Grizzlies boast one of the top singles players in the Mountain region, as well as one of the top doubles teams. Montana senior Amanda Bran is rated as the No. 19 player in the region. Bran's twin sister, Rebecca, and fellow senior Whitney Paluch are among the top 10 doubles teams in the region. The duo is 4-4 on the year at No. 1 doubles, including two wins in Big Sky play.

In 2010, when EWU and UM met during the regular season, Montana upset Eastern at home, 4-3. Despite its home court advantage and three victories in singles play for EWU, the Grizzlies swept the doubles matches to earn the one-point edge. All three Eagles who did win their matches in 2010 are returning players, including Caitlin Bampton, Chelsea Patton and Ryann Warner.

Montana was picked to finish third in the 2011 Big Sky preseason coaches' poll. Montana garnered 52 total points, compared to 36 for EWU, who came in fifth in the rankings. Eastern and Montana finished the 2010 campaign with nearly identical records. The Grizzlies were 4-4 in league play and 8-13 overall, while Eastern also finished 4-4 in the Big Sky and 8-15 overall.

Eagle Tennis News & Notes

Helon Has Hot Hand in Big Sky Battles: Freshman Helon Ricks went undefeated in singles play during the first weekend of Big Sky action for EWU. Against the ISU, Ricks clinched the match for Eastern after rallying back from a one-set deficit. Playing in the No. 5 spot, she lost the first set to Laura Severino, but then won 12 of the next 16 games to take the match 3-6, 6-4, 6-0. Against the Wildcats, Ricks was one of only two players to record a victory in singles play. She beat Kristi Russell in straight sets at No. 5, 6-3, 6-2. Ricks is now tied for the best record on the team this season at 6-4. She is 2-0 in BSC action.

Eagles Excel in Three-Set Affairs: So far in the 2011 season, Eastern Washington has gone 6-3 when playing in three-set matches. Against Portland on Feb. 4, Eastern won both three setters played in the match. Junior Caitlin Bampton defeated Alice Tucker at No. 3 singles, 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 6-3. Sophomore Chelsea Patton, who was playing at No. 4, dropped her first set to Stephanie Fuchs, but then rallied back to win the second and third sets, 6-3, 6-2. Senior Judy Liening is undefeated in three-set matches this year, and both of her wins came after falling in the first set. She beat Gonzaga's Britta Stime, 4-6, 6-4, 1-0 (10-7) and Lewis-Clark State's Clara Schultz, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). Freshman Helon Ricks won the first Big Sky match of her career after beating Idaho State's Laura Severino, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.

Patton is Top Player at No. 3: EWU sophomore Chelsea Patton is undefeated this season when playing in the No. 3 spot. She is currently the top No. 3 singles player in the Big Sky with a 3-0 record. Patton won back-to-back matches against Whitworth and Seattle, and then defeated Dorothy Chon of Lewis-Clark State College, 6-3, 6-3. The Boise, Idaho native also has two wins at No. 4 and one at No. 1. She is tied with Ricks for the best singles record on the squad thus far in the season at 6-4 overall.

Injury Report:They say lightning doesn't strike the same plac twice, but redshirt-sophomore Kelsey Knight would have to disagree. Knight recently suffered a torn ACL in her left knee. The injury occurred while playing Gonzaga at the Spokane Raqceut Club on Jan. 26. Two years ago, Knight tore the ACL in her right knee while playing in the exact same facility on the exact same court. Knight is projected to have surgery in March, but will be out for the rest of the 2011 season.

Eagles Go 3-0 in Opening Weekend: Eastern Washington opened its 2011 campaign with three wins in two days. The Eagles swept Whitworth and Whitman, and dropped only one point in its 6-1 defeat of cross-state rival Seattle. Eastern clinched the doubles point against the Redhawks after two incredible comebacks at No. 1 and No. 2. At No. 2 doubles, Chelsea Patton and Helon Ricks found themselves down 7-4 to Seattle's Weissman and Lucas. The Eagle duo then rallied to win five of the next six games, including a tiebreaker at 8-8, to eventually win the match, 9-8. The No. 1 doubles pair of Caitlin Bampton and Kelsey Knight also overcame some early adversity, as they trailed Seattle 4-2 to start the match. EWU was able to eventually gut out the win with a 9-7 decision.

Eagles in Middle of Pack According to BSC Preseason Poll: The Eagle women were selected fifth in the 2011 Big Sky Preseason coaches poll. EWU garnered 36 points in the poll to finish behind unanimous favorite Sacramento State (64), second-place Northern Arizona (55) and Montana (52) and Montana State (38). Eastern's preseason ranking seemed quite fitting, considering the Eagles have finished fifth in the conference in each of the last two seasons. EWU earned a 4-4 league record in both 2009 and 2010. With the BSC tournament field being reduced from six to four in the 2010 season, Eastern just missed the cut for postseason competition.

2011 BSC Preseason Poll   2010 Record  
School (first-place votes)   Total Points   Big Sky Overall
Sacramento State (8) 64 8-0 19-9
Northern Arizona (1) 55 6-2 13-10
Montana 52 4-4 8-13
Montana State 38 7-1 11-9
Eastern Washington 36 4-4 8-15
Weber State 29 2-6 5-17
Northern Colorado 27 4-4 6-15
Idaho State 13 0-8 0-16

Knight and Warner Return after Impressive 2010 Campaign: Junior Kelsey Knight and sophomore Ryann Warner were the only two Eagles to record a winning record in singles play during the 2010 season. Knight went 11-10 on the season, playing primarily at No. 2 singles, while Warner earned an overall record of 11-9, with a majority of those wins coming at the No. 6 spot. Knight and Warner's 11 wins in the 2010 season were enough to crack the top ten list of the EWU record book. Knight and Warner are currently tied for ninth on Eastern's all-time single-season wins list with those 11 victories. The school record is held by Kasey Knox, who garnered 14 wins in 2007.

Eastern's Upperclassmen Appear in Career Record Book: Of Eastern's eight returning players, only two are of junior or senior status, and both of those upperclassmen have made their way into the EWU record book for career singles wins. Senior Judy Liening is eighth on the list with 23 total wins in her career. Junior Caitlin Bampton is tied for ninth with 21 singles victories.

Two New Faces for 2011: In addition to his eight returners, associate head coach Dale Silha added two new players to the 2011 roster. Nefeli Diamanti, a native of Athens, Greece, transferred to Eastern after spending two years with the Cal St. Bakersfield Roadrunners. While at CSUB, Diamanti compiled an overall singles record of 7-28, while going 5-28 in doubles play. Before coming to the United States, Diamanti ranked as high as No. 3 among U18 players in Greece. Ricks is a product of Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, Ark. She won the girls singles title at the 2006 Arkansas 5A State Championship, and was a finalist in 2007 and 2008. She played at No. 1 singles as a freshman, sophomore and junior, tallying a 51-2 overall record during those years. She also played on the USTA junior competitive circuit, where she ranked as high as 49th in southern section in both singles and doubles play.

Eagles Sign Two High School Standouts to National Letters of Intent: Moira Hedberg of Oxnard, Calif., and Chrissy Uriarte of Las Vegas, Nev., will join the Eagle women's tennis program as freshmen in the fall of 2011.According to tennisrecuriting.net, Hedberg is tabbed as a four-star recruit and is among the top 40 players in the Southwest region. She achieved her highest junior ranking of 144 in 2010 after tallying a 22-29 overall record in national tournaments. She has recorded two wins over five-star recruits and six wins against other four-star athletes. Throughout her preparatory career, Hedberg earned an incredible 186-10 overall record in singles play. She has captured the Pacific View League singles title for four-consecutive years, and was named the PVL Player of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2010. She is also a four-time Ventura County Star first-team selection and is a member of the National Honor Society. In addition to Hedberg, the Eagles welcome another player who has been mentioned among the nation's best juniors. Uriarte has been ranked in the top 100 on tennisrecruiting.net for the past four years, and in 2007 and 2008, she was ranked in the top 50. She achieved her highest juniors ranking of 44 in 2007 after garnering multiple wins at some of the most competitive tournaments in the country, including the Copper Bowl, the Easter Bowl Spring National, the Junior Orange Bowl International Championships and the USTA National Open Championships. Uriarte is a native of Las Vegas, Nev., and competed one season at Coronado High School before transferring to the Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine, Calif., for her sophomore year. Uriarte saw early success at the ATA, including a sixth-place finish in the 18 and younger division at the 2008 Snowball Intermountain Sectional Tournament. Unfortunately, the rest of her season was hampered after she came down with an illness. Uriarte returned to Nevada and began competing again for Coronado during her senior year. She finished third overall at the 2010 Class 4A State Championships.

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