Men play Whitman and Whitworth, while women finally get season underway with one match against Seattle
After Mother Nature interfered with its original season-opening weekend, the Eastern Washington University women's tennis team will finally make its 2012 debut this Saturday (Jan. 28) when it plays Seattle at 5:30 p.m. at the Spokane Club in Spokane, Wash.
The men's team will also be close to home, as it hosts Whitman on Saturday (Jan. 28) in Cheney, and then plays at Whitworth on Sunday (Jan. 29) in north Spokane.
Both Whitman and Whitworth compete at the NCAA Division III level, as members of the Northwest Conference. Eastern played the Pirates and Missionaries during the 2011 season, and blanked both in-state rivals, 7-0.
The Eagles opened their 2012 campaign last weekend in Boise, Idaho, with a pair of matches against two nationally-ranked opponents. Although Eastern lost both of them to No. 62 St. Mary's and No. 49 Boise State, there were several encouraging performances from the season debut.
Sophomore James Russell was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after winning one match in both outings. Against the Gaels, Russell, and partner Mario Navarro, prevailed in a tiebreaker at No. 2 doubles. Russell then posted the only Eagle win against BSU, as he outlasted Scott Sears at No. 3 singles, 6-4, 2-6, 1-0 (10-4).
After redshirting the 2011 season, sophomore Ilija Cuic made a strong debut for the red and white, defeating St. Mary's Maxime Olivan at No. 1 singles, 6-4, 6-2. Coming into the match, Olivan was ranked 16th in the Norwest region.
More on the EWU women's tennis team
The 2012 squad, under first year head coach Mykala Hedberg, includes one senior, three juniors, three sophomores and four talented freshmen.
"I will certainly have a lot of options available this year, which is great," said Hedberg. "Heading into our first weekend, I really have high expectations for every single person on the team. I'm not expecting just one or two people to carry the load this season. We didn't have anyone selected as captain yet because I wanted everyone to hold each other accountable in their performances both on and off the court."
EWU struggled a bit last year, going 5-18 overall and 1-7 in Big Sky matches, but the Eagles had an encouraging fall season. Freshmen Moira Hedberg and Chrissy Uriarte made some good runs both in singles, and as doubles partners, in Eastern's four fall tournaments.
Returning letterwinners Nefeli Diamanti, Chelsea Patton and Ryann Warner also turned in a few solid performances. After dropping her match in the main draw, Diamanti went on to win the consolation bracket at the EWU Fall Women's Classic (Sept. 28-29) with wins over Montana State and Montana. At the Ducks Invitational (Oct. 23-24) in Eugene, Ore., Patton and Warner both advanced to the finals of their respective consolation brackets.
In addition to those three upperclassmen, EWU returns sophomore Helon Ricks, who earned the best overall record in 2011. Ricks finished the year at 10-11, which included an impressive 5-3 mark in Big Sky play.