The Bengals have played like the Big Sky Champions almost all season and with the tournament this weekend, it’s time for the team to finish what it started.
For the first time since 2006, the Idaho State men’s tennis team will be competing in the Big Sky Conference tournament in Sacramento, Calif.
The Idaho State men’s tennis team finished the regular season at 13-5 overall and at 8-2 in conference play. The team finished in a tie for second in the regular season, earning the No. 4 seed for the Big Sky Conference Tournament next week. The team has never won the Big Sky Tournament title.
Dates for the tournament are set for April 26-28.
The Bengals lost their last two sets of conference matches in the season while on the road at Montana and Montana State. In the 5-2 loss to the Grizzlies, freshman Jamey Swiggart and sophomore Austin Miller won their singles matchups to earn the Bengals two points. Swiggart remained undefeated in his conference campaign at press time before the team faced Montana State on April 24.
The Big Sky Conference was very competitive this season as Idaho State, Sacramento State, Montana State and Montana battled it out for the season title. In the end, Montana State and the Hornets of Sacramento State shared the regular season title.
The tournament will feature Idaho State, Sacramento State, Montana State and Montana. All teams finished the conference season with no more than two losses.
Led by seniors Charles Norman and Nate Gross, Idaho State has had a dominating doubles season. They were undefeated at home (8-0). The Bengals beat Sacramento State, the defending conference champions, back in March. Sacramento State has won six of the last 10 Big Sky Championship titles, including the last four. The win for the Bengals was the first time they had defeated Sacramento State since 2004.
Norman expressed, after defeating the defending conference champions, that he believes the Bengals have the skill to win the title.
“We are all motivated and we have a common goal that we can achieve,” he said. Norman was named as Big Sky Player of the Week last week, his second time earning that honor.
Now here is a look at the potential matchups the Bengals could face on their way to a Big Sky Title.
(No. 1 Seed)
Sophomore Marek Marksoo leads the Sacramento State Hornets. He was was ranked 120th in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). The Hornets will host the Big Sky Tournament April 26 through 28 at the Gold River Racquet Club. The team has clinched at least the No. 2 seed for the tournament, and will receive a bye in the quarterfinal round.
As previously mentioned, the Bengals and Hornets faced off against each other on March 17 at Reed Gym. The Bengals stung the Hornets and handed them their first conference loss of the season. Marksoo will be looking to avenge the team’s only conference loss if these two powerhouses meet up.
ISU seniors Norman and Gross defeated Sacramento State’s Marksoo and his doubles partner Aliaksandr Malko 9-7. This is the best matchup in the Big Sky Conference and one for fans to pay attention to.
(No. 3 Seed)
The Montana Grizzlies hold the distinction of being the first team in the Big Sky Conference to defeat the Bengals this season. Hopefully it won’t happen again.
The Grizzlies won despite missing their season-long No. 1, Mikolaj Caruk, who went down with an injury during practice the week before.
On the bright side, freshman Jamey Swiggart remained undefeated against Big Sky opponents. Norman and Gross lost in a tiebreaker.
The fact that the Grizzlies were able to win without Caruk means this could be a dangerous team for the Bengals in the tournament.
(No. 2 Seed)
The Montana State Bobcats defeated the Bengals Sunday, April 21, 4-1, earning the No. 2 seed. The Bobcats are now the Big Sky Co-Champs with Sacramento State.
The matchup featured some of the best singles play in the conference. Last week’s Co-Big Sky Players of the Week, ISU’s Norman and MSU’s Javier Martin-Morillas squared off at No. 2 singles. Norman defeated Martin-Morillas, 6-0 and 7-6.
(No. 5 Seed)
The scariest team in postseason play isn’t necessarily the best team but it’s the hottest team, and that distinction belongs to the Weber State Wildcats.
Weber State defeated Northern Arizona on Saturday at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Ariz., to win its fourth-straight match.
“We have been playing some great tennis as of late,” said WSU head coach Brad Ferreira. “Winning four-straight matches gives us a great deal of confidence heading into the Big Sky tournament.”
Weber State finishes the regular season at 10-11 overall, and with a 5-5 mark in the Big Sky Conference.
(No. 6 Seed)
This team is heading into the tournament hobbled and short-handed. Eastern was originally scheduled to play a non-conference match on April 20 against Lewis-Clark State, but that was canceled after a season-ending dislocated kneecap injury suffered last week by their No. 2 singles player Eduardo Martinez. They were already short-handed due to missing Luke Thompson because of injury.
They limp into the tournament with a 5-5 conference record and a 9-12 overall record. While no team should be counted out, the Eagles are feeling lucky to just have made the tournament and perhaps the devastating injures to Martinez and Thompson can motivate this team. If the Bengals do face off against the Eagles, they would be foolish to take this team for granted.
Jon van Vliet, freelance writer, contributed to this story.