|Tennis teams off to WAC|
MOSCOW, Idaho - The University of Idaho men's and women's tennis teams both find themselves in the top half of the bracket as they head into this weekend's Western Athletic Conference tournament in Boise, Idaho.
The Vandal men finished the regular season with an 18-7 record and a 4-2 mark in WAC play, and earned the No. 3 seed in the six-team field. Idaho will face No. 6 Utah State (12-10, 2-4 WAC) in the opening round on April 29 at noon, with the winner of that match advancing to face New Mexico State (14-7, 2-4 WAC) in the semifinals. The Vandals beat Utah State 5-2 in Moscow on April 8, and fell to New Mexico State 5-0 on April 21 in Las Cruces, N.M.
Idaho will be looking for a berth to the NCAA tournament with a WAC tournament championship. But if the Vandals fall short of the WAC crown, a top-50 national ranking will put Idaho in position to be considered for an NCAA at-large bid. The Vandals enter the week ranked No. 51 in the nation, while New Mexico State sits at No. 52 and Fresno State is No 42.
"I think a win against New Mexico State might put us in the range where we could get an at-large bid," Idaho coach Jeff Beaman said. "If we beat Fresno State in the finals, we're definitely going based on winning the tournament."
The other side of the bracket includes No. 4 Boise State facing No. 5 Hawai'i in the opening round, for the right to face No. 1 Fresno State in the semifinals. Idaho beat both Boise State and Hawai'i in WAC play this season, and fell to Fresno State. Idaho's win over BSU on March 20 was the program's first over the Broncos since 1988.
The Vandal men have had one of their best seasons in history, earning the programs highest ever national ranking when they climbed all the way up to No. 46 in the country on April 12.
"I think based on national rankings and wins over top programs, it's probably the best season Idaho has ever had," Beaman said.
The Vandal women, led by seven fourth-year seniors, are poised to make a run of their own in the WAC tournament. The No. 4 seeded Vandals will open the nine-team women's tournament against No. 5 New Mexico State on April 28 at 9 a.m. The winner of that match will advance to the semifinals to face either No. 1 Boise State, No. 8 Hawai'i or No. 9 San Jose State.
"I'm happy we got the four seed, I'll take as high of a seed as we can get," Idaho women's coach Tyler Neill said. "We beat New Mexico State earlier this year, so I think it's a decent matchup, but we know how good that team is, and when they played us before they were down a player, so we know they're going to be even tougher this time. It's usually close, competitive matches when we play them, so we wouldn't expect anything different this time."
Idaho finished its regular sea son 17-7 overall and 4-3 in the WAC. The Vandals enter the tournament having won four of their last five matches in the regular season. Idaho's only loss in that time came to No. 2 Fresno State, which was the only team to go undefeated in WAC play but earned the No. 2 seed due to a lower national ranking than Boise State.
"I think the gap has closed this year between us and the top teams that have gone to the NCAAs," Neill said. "Our team, if we're on, we're really tough. I feel good, I think with so many seniors on the team, they know what this is all about, they know how to step up at big times. Having a freshman and sophomore are the one and two spots, they definitely don't play like they're underclassmen. It will be interesting to see how they respond in their first WAC championships."
The opposite side of the bracket has No. 3 Nevada playing No. 6 Hawai'i, and No. 2 Fresno State playing No. 7 Louisiana Tech.
Fans can get updated brackets and results online at the WAC Tournament Central.