It was a new conference, but the same results for the Vandals.
The Idaho men’s tennis team defeated Northern Arizona 4-2 Sunday in the Big Sky Championship to capture the team’s second straight conference title and clinch a berth to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Vandals won the WAC Championship.
“It’s a good accomplishment,” Idaho coach Jeff Beaman said. “Especially with the depth of the conference, which is shown where the (No.) 6 seed (Northern Arizona) is able to beat the (No.) 1 seed in the semifinals and play the (No.) 2 seed in a match that could go either way. The guys competed well and really stepped up at the right time.”
The top six teams in the Big Sky headed to Sacramento, California, over the past weekend for the Big Sky Tournament. Idaho came in as the No. 2 seed with a first-round bye. After the No. 4 seed Montana State beat No. 5 Sacramento State Friday, the Bobcats and Vandals met in the semifinals where Idaho thoroughly beat Montana State 4-1.
Junior Odon Barta dropped the No. 1 singles match in the semifinals to Andre Napoliatano, but with freshman Felipe Fonseca’s No. 2 singles win, freshman Mark Kovacs’ No. 4 singles win and Jackson Varney’s No. 5 win, Idaho was able to sweep the rest of the singles matches to finish.
In doubles the Vandals also pulled ahead, sweeping all three doubles matches. Varney and senior Cristobal Ramos Salazar won the No. 1 doubles match and Barta and Fonseca’s pairing won the No. 2 match. Senior Alberto Sanz and Kovacs won the No. 3 match.
The win earned the Vandals a spot in the Big Sky championship in just their first season in the conference after a 18-year absence. No. 6 seed Northern Arizona came into the championship on fire after upsetting No. 3 Montana and then shocking No. 1 seed Weber State in the semifinals.
Singles got off to a good start for the Vandals as Barta, Fonseca, Ramos Salazar, Kovacs and Varney all won their matches and only Sanz dropped his singles match in the No. 6 match. The Lumberjacks were able to take the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles matches, but the Kovacs and Sanz pairing won the No. 3 match en route to a 4-2 Idaho victory. Fonseca’s No. 2 singles match was the last to finish and seal the win.
“(The players) have a sense of accomplishment,” Beaman said. “After the year they had, it’s been really up and down at times. I think they’re proud of the fact of what they accomplished with the win and also being able to do it after such a slow start in the final match.”
Idaho now prepares for the NCAA Tournament, where last year they fell to the top seed USC in the first round. For now though, Idaho will prepare for the tournament normally, Beaman said.
“(The players will) watch the selection show tomorrow and take tomorrow off,” Beaman said. “Wednesday we’re back at it with our regular practice routine. Lift Wednesday and Friday, hit Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. See how those days go, and just do our normal routine.”
The fate of the Vandals will be learned during the selection show at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. It will be broadcasted on NCAA.com.
Ben Evensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenE_VN