The Idaho men’s tennis team will enter its two matches Saturday in Missoula with a top-75 ranking and an undefeated record to protect.
Idaho will take on the Montana Grizzlies at 8 a.m. and Montana State Bobcats at 2 p.m. this weekend. The Vandals are coming off a trip to Portland where they edged the University of Portland 4-3 and shut out Portland State 7-0. They improved to 9-0, their best start in at least 20 years and attained a No. 57 national ranking. It is first time they have made it into the top 75 this season.
Idaho will try to make sure history does not repeat itself. The Vandals last faced off against Montana and Montana State two seasons ago at home. At the time, Idaho was on a winning streak during a season where the Vandals were ranked in the top 75. The Grizzlies beat the Vandals, who had won five straight matches up to that point.
Coach Jeff Beaman remembers that match clearly and said this year’s Montana team should be even better. Montana is only 1-3 this season, but won its last match after sweeping Utah State. The Grizzlies are also battle-tested after playing No. 39 ranked Boise State in their first match of the season.
Beaman said Idaho should have its hands full given that Montana has less to lose than the Vandals.
“There’s no pressure on them,” Beaman said. “There’s a lot of pressure on us.”
Idaho will also be wary of Montana State, the leader in the Big Sky standings. The Bobcats are 7-4 on the season and are coming off a pair of wins against Utah State and MSU-Billings. Sophomore Javier Martin-Morillas earned Big Sky Men’s Tennis Player of the Week honors in early February and junior Diego Campos Contreras is 8-2 in singles matches.
Still, the Grizzlies and the Bobcats will have to go through a loaded Idaho roster that includes sophomore Dmitry Perevoshchikov, who is 8-0 in singles matches while playing at the No.1 and No. 2 position all year. Cesar Torres is also undefeated in singles matches with nine wins and senior Marius Cirstea and Cristobal Ramos Salazar have earned six wins on the season. Senior Abid Akbar has five victories while playing in the top three positions all season.
Along with its depth in the singles matches, much of Idaho’s strength lies in its consistency in doubles competitions. Akbar and Cirstea have paired up to become the unstoppable anchors at the No.1 spot with an 8-0 record. Jose Bendeck and Salazar are also undefeated together with seven wins. In two closely contested matches — the win against Portland and a 4-2 win against Gonzaga — these two pairings were able to win two out of the three doubles matches to give Idaho crucial points.
Their success in these areas has helped them achieve the best start in at least two decades. Yet, Beaman said the team tries not to focus on their record leading up to each match. He said he does not want his team to feel any added pressure.
“It’s something that can start to be a distraction,” Beaman said.
Idaho has yet to play like a distracted team, as evidenced by its resiliency on the road. The Vandals played two matches in one day for the past three weekends in Washington, Utah and Oregon. As they head to Montana, Beaman said he likes the determination they have shown during those other grueling weekends.
“We’ve stayed pretty focused and come out with good resolve,” Beaman said.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at email@example.com