|Men, women draw USC|
MOSCOW, Idaho – The Idaho men’s and women’s tennis teams both clinched Western Athletic Conference championships against New Mexico State on Sunday. Tuesday, both teams found out they will be facing USC in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Vandal men (11-13) take on the No. 1 overall seed Trojans (26-3) on May 10 at 2 p.m. in Los Angeles, while the women (19-5) will look for their 20th win of the season against the 16th seeded Trojans (16-7) in LA on May 9 at 2 p.m.
“We need to play well,” Idaho coach Jeff Beaman said, looking ahead to the men’s match at USC. “They’re the number one seed in the tournament for a reason. They’re a great program, they’ve won multiple national championships recently.”
The men’s team is peaking at the right time, heading into the NCAA tournament on a season-high four-match win streak. After winning just three of their first nine matches of the season, the Idaho men went 8-7 down the stretch and claimed their first WAC championship.
“We did a lot of things not very well at the start of the season,” Beaman said of the men’s team. “The good thing is we worked on a lot of different things; relations within the team, effort at practice, consistent effort in matches, individual deficiencies in players’ games. It was a grueling year and at times disappointing, but we improved so much in so many ways and it came together at the right time.”
While the Vandals will be facing the nation’s No. 1 team, it won’t be Idaho’s first match this season against a national power. The Vandals visited No. 44 Washington and No. 22 Boise State during the regular season, and took five of the six singles matches against BSU to three sets.
“We have an extremely talented team,” Beaman said. “We honestly have, I feel, under-achieved for most of the year. The good thing is we got healthy and we started playing better at the right time. Starting with that Boise State match, even though it was a loss, I think the guys just realized they are a really good team and talented. They used that to really bond and push themselves through the end of the year, and they’re starting to realize some of that potential.”
Idaho senior Jose Bendeck, who will play at the No. 1 singles and doubles spots for the Vandals during the NCAA tournament, said the Vandals will arrive in Southern California with no pressure.
“It will be a good experience for us,” Bendeck said. “We go there with no pressure. We know it’s the No. 1 team in the nation. We just have to enjoy the moment and play as hard as we can and just leave it all there.”
The Idaho women will take on the 16th seeded Trojans, but the Vandals have experience beating, and being, a ranked team this season. Idaho knocked off No. 66 Fresno State in mid-February and spent six weeks in the national top-75, peaking at a program-best No. 51. However, the Vandals lost two of their final three regular season matches at New Mexico State and Montana before winning the WAC tournament. Beaman said that “hiccup” served as a wake-up call for the team.
“Our women’s program has a winning record and we’ve beaten nationally ranked programs,” Beaman said. “We had a rough patch near the end of the year but the loss at New Mexico State was a real wake-up call and then the loss to Montana was a wake-up call as well. This is college tennis, and if you don’t go out and put the right effort in and have six people show up, you’re going to lose against good opponents. We have a very talented team and when we’re clicking we can compete with anybody.”
Beaman said facing the No. 16 seed in the women’s draw gives credibility to what the Vandals did during the regular season.
“Playing the 16-seed shows that we were recognized for having a great regular season,” he said.
Idaho senior Almudena Sanz said the Vandals are good enough to compete with anybody.
“They’re a tough team, but we’re a good team too,” the Oviedo, Spain, native said. “Anything can happen on the court. They have good players at every position but we have the skills to beat them. We are growing and coming together as a team. Everyone has to be focused on their match and give it their best.”