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During its season opener, the men’s tennis team only had five available players. Six players are needed to fill a full team, meaning that ISU was forced to default a doubles and single match in its 7-0 defeat to Utah State, a top-50 program.
William Edin, a senior, sat out the match with an ankle injury while Adam Hornby, who ranked 42nd nationally in the NAIA last season, was forced to sit out because of transfer rules while freshman Ryan Boddington left the program to focus on academics.
“Our first match wasn’t really a match because we had people injured and ineligible, so we weren’t able to put a full team out on the court,” Edin said. “It wasn’t the best start, but everybody is healthy and eligible now.”
Boddington’s departure means the Bengals will be forced to play the rest of the season with seven players, meaning the team is one injury away from a catastrophe.
“If we lose one of our top six players, we are going to have a difficult time accomplishing our goals,” said head coach Mark Rodel. “But, I will say that most teams in the Big Sky are like that. You are one player away from disaster.”
ISU was picked to finish sixth in the conference by Big Sky coaches while Idaho was picked to win both the men’s and women’s title. The players say they set a goal of finishing in the top three.
The Bengals’ 2017 campaign concluded when they lost to Montana in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, the first appearance since 2013.
“It would be nice to get a rematch there and get revenge for our loss,” Edin said.
During the fall season, Peter Trhac and David Felix made school history in doubles play by advancing to the round-of-16 at the 2017 Oracle ITA Fall Championships, which marked ISU’s first national tournament appearance since 1993. Rodel said that if the two were given a second opportunity, the pair could win a national title.
“They have the fundamental skill set,” Rodel explained. “Now, it’s just a matter of learning how to play the game, perfecting it, having the experience and the self-belief and confidence of going into a tournament like that.”
Out of the seven available players, three are currently pursuing a master’s degree, meaning that Rodel is dealing with a much more mature team than in year’s past. The team’s only freshman is Austin Gwilliam.
“That doesn’t normally happen,” Rodel said. “I don’t deal with a lot of nonsense. It makes my job easier.”
After going 7-0 at home last season, ISU will play the conference’s top three teams – Idaho, Northern Arizona and Sacramento State – at home, which may give ISU the extra boost it needs to get into the top-three.
“We have been right there with those top schools before, but we weren’t able to get across the line,” Edin said.
The Bengals started the season 0-2 with losses to Utah State and Utah, but both are regional powers and both were on the road. ISU hosts Lewis-Clark State College at home this Sunday and will play Southern Utah at home on January 28.
Following the short homestand, seven of ISU’s next eight matches will be on the road.
“It’s cool being top-six, but none of us want to be top-six,” Filipovich said. “We want to exceed those expectations.”