Two weeks ago, the Idaho men’s tennis team went to Eugene, Ore, hoping to showcase its talent against the then No. 40 Oregon Ducks.
After a tight 4-3 loss, the players left Eugene with a bitter taste in their mouths knowing they nearly missed an opportunity to knock off one of the top programs in the country.
But the No. 62 Vandals responded with a four-match winning streak and now have another chance to prove themselves against high-caliber Division 1 schools – and possibly take a jump in the national rankings – when they head to Boise for the Boise State Springhill Suites Classic on Friday and Saturday.
The tournament will feature 46th ranked Boise State, Southern Mississippi, Marquette and Utah. Idaho will play two matches on Friday and one on Saturday.
Though the 15-1 Vandals have been racking up victories all season, rarely have they had a chance to compete against schools from some of the best conferences around the country. Coach Jeff Beaman said the team needs to win against top competition if they hope to get into the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season.
“We have limited opportunities to go against ranked opponents, so (the team) really needs to come out firing on all cylinders,” Beaman said.
The most intriguing match-up for Idaho, of course, would be BSU. The Broncos are coming off three straight wins against top-50 teams on the road. Their wins against No. 50 Nebraska, No. 27 Notre Dame and No. 42 Texas Tech helped BSU to go from unranked last week to No. 46 this week.
An Idaho-Boise St. match would also be a chance for Idaho to avenge their 7-0 loss to the Broncos last year when the Vandals were ranked No. 66 and the Broncos were No. 45. It would also provide an interesting individual match-up between Idaho sophomore Dmitry Perevoshchikov, who is undefeated and ranked 122nd in the country, and 25th ranked Andrew Bettles in the No. 1 singles match.
While the other teams are not ranked, they come from the nation’s top conferences in men’s tennis and should be difficult tests for Idaho. Southern Mississippi is 13-6-1 overall and 3-4 on the road. Its resume includes a February win over South Alabama, who was No. 53 at the time. Two of their players, Matt Frost and Andrew Goodwin, are ranked 60th in doubles matches.
Marquette is 8-7 overall and has experience going against some of the best programs in the country in Notre Dame, No. 61 Minnesota and No. 64 Wisconsin. Idaho lost to Marquette last season 4-3 in the same tournament. Utah, who also beat Idaho in that tournament, is 8-5, with the Utes’ most impressive win coming against No. 71 UNLV.
Senior Abid Akbar said the Oregon match made the team even hungrier to face strong opposition.
“We played a tough Oregon team so we know what to expect against even tougher teams and it’s a great step to get ready for the conferences matches that are coming up and the home games we have,” Akbar said.
Idaho is entering the tournament with plenty of confidence due to its current winning streak. Along with Perevoshchikov, senior Marius Cirstea is playing well in singles competition. Cirstea was named Western Athletic Conference Player of the Week after going 2-0 in singles against Liberty University and Hawai’i last week. Junior Jose Bendeck and sophomore Cristobal Ramos Salazar also earned a pair of wins in doubles last week and are ranked No. 79 in the country.
After this tournament, Idaho will continue conference play with its first home match this spring March 29th against New Mexico State.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org