|Vandal men eye title|
Idaho men’s tennis coach Jeff Beaman has brought the program to a new level in each of his first six seasons on the job, and if that trend continues in his seventh, it will mean a Western Athletic Conference championship for the Vandals, who enter this week’s WAC tournament as the No. 2 seed in the six-team field.
After taking over the program in 2007 that earned just two wins the season before, Beaman led the Vandals to a double-digit win season his first year on the job, a .500 record in year two, a winning record in year three and 20-win season in year four. In 2011 the Vandals earned their highest national ranking in program history, and last year, the Vandals reached their first WAC championship match.
Idaho earned a first-round bye by finishing second in the final regular-season WAC standings, and will play either No. 3 UTSA or No. 6 UT Arlington on April 27 at 9 a.m. (PT) in Denver. UTSA handed Idaho its only WAC loss of the season, a 4-3 defeat in what turned out to be Idaho’s regular season finale on April 19. Idaho was tied 3-3 with top overall seed Denver on April 21 before the match was suspended and not made up.
“I don’t think it helps or hurts us one way or another,” Beaman said of recently playing two potential tournament opponents. “It was two competitive matches, but the thing is the conditions are going to be very different. With this team we can play lights out, or we can have some not-so-great performances in terms of the entire team showing up. It’s really going to come down to how those teams play in those conditions and how our guys show up.”
The Vandals enter the tournament at 20-6 overall and 4-1 in the WAC, and spent eight weeks in the national rankings, peaking at No. 57.
“This is a year we have a very good chance to win the conference championship,” Beaman said. “It’s going to be tough at elevation in conditions that we’re not familiar with, but luckily with the bye we can get down there and get an extra practice in and also that will give us an extra day to heal up.”
Beaman noted several key players have been fighting nagging injuries, which makes the first-round bye an advantage.
“Sometimes you want that match against a lower seed to get your confidence up going into a match against another top team,” Beaman said. “But with the health issues that we’ve had, this year that bye is very important.”
If the Vandals advance past Saturday’s semifinal match, they will play in the WAC finals on April 28 at 9 a.m. (PT). Denver will take on the winner of (4) New Mexico State and (5) Utah State in the other semifinal. Beaman said if the Vandals are going to be successful this week, it is going to come down to winning doubles matches and being ready to play at every spot throughout the lineup.
“Doubles is going to be critical and health is going to be critical,” Beaman said. “Then it just comes down to showing up. You’re not going to learn how to do anything new this time of year. It’s a matter of putting out a good effort the entire time through singles and doubles, and if we don’t have that from every guy, it’s going to be really hard to win anything.”