|12 Vandals earn 16 WAC honors|
DENVER – Eleven Idaho tennis players along with coach Jeff Beaman combined for 16 Western Athletic Conference postseason honors, headlined by men’s and women’s Coach of the Year Beaman, men’s Player of the Year Jose Bendeck, women’s Player of the Year Victoria Lozano and women’s Freshman of the Year Galina Bykova.
On the women’s side, all six players who were in the lineup throughout the WAC tournament received honors. In addition to Lozano and Bykova, who were also each on the all-WAC first-team, Almudena Sanz earned second-team singles honors for her performance at No. 2 singles, and teamed up with Lozano for a first-team selection in doubles. Belen Barcenilla and Sophie Vickers earned second-team doubles recognition, as did Rita Bermudez and Bykova.
“It is representative of the year that we had,” Beaman said of his entire women’s lineup earning honors. “All of those honors are definitely well deserved from what the women accomplished this year.”
The Idaho women went 19-5 and won the program’s first conference championship, earning a national ranking as high as No. 51.
Lozano went 17-6 in singles on the season and had a 15-5 mark in 20 matches at the No. 1 spot.
“That’s just huge,” Beaman said of her record in singles. “At No. 1, no matter what school you’re playing, you’re playing a tough opponent. If you go slightly over .500 at No. 1 that’s a great accomplishment.. We have other players who could have played at the No. 1 spot, but when you have the ability to play them lower, it builds the confidence for the entire team every match.”
Bykova, a freshman from St. Petersburg, Russia, went 18-5 in singles, all at the No. 3 position.
“Galina is a great competitor,” Beaman said. “That’s the beauty of having players like Vicky and Almu ahead of her. She wasn’t thrown out there at the top spot as a freshman, which sometimes happens with really talented players. She was able to play in the middle of the lineup and develop and build her confidence by winning a lot, which helps her down the road when she makes that jump.”
Sanz earned second-team honors in singles after going 14-7 on the season including a 12-6 mark at No. 2. She went 2-1 at No. 1 singles on the season and was poised to win two singles matches during the WAC tournament before her teammates clinched match victories.
“Almu is a great player who has had a great career,” Beaman said. “When you look at the overall record, on most teams she would be playing No. 1. She didn’t get to finish a couple matches because she had some teammates who went out there and took care of business quickly. She has had a great career and she was one of the critical parts that helped get this program to the next level.”
Lozano and Sanz went 17-4 in doubles, all at No. 1 for Idaho, while Bykova and Bermudez went 14-4, including 13-4 at No. 2, and Barcenilla and Vickers posted a 14-4 record as well, all at No. 3 doubles. The Vandals went 48-12 (.800) in doubles matches in 2014 and won the doubles point 19 times in 22 tries (.864).
“When you’re going into a match knowing that you have three doubles teams that can win at any point, it’s a huge boost,” Beaman said. “I don’t know what the winning percentage of doubles points was during the year, but it was very high.”
In addition to having the Coach and Player of the year on the men’s side, Idaho’s Bendeck and Artemiy Nikitin earned first-team honors in singles, Cristobal Ramos Salazar earned second-team singles honors, Bendeck and Ramos Salazar teamed up for first-team doubles honors, and Nikitin and Cesar combined for second-team doubles honors.
Bendeck went 13-10 in singles play at the top three positions. He went 4-5 at No. 1, 7-5 at No. 2 and 2-0 at No. 3.
“Jose has been a critical part of this program,” Beaman said of the senior. “He was playing lower in the lineup when we got into the top 50, and he has gradually worked his way to the top. He’s been a team captain for multiple seasons. He has had a great year going to National Indoors, providing leadership and providing wins at the top.”
Nikitin also played at the top three spots for the Vandals, going a combined 11-8 including 4-4 at No. 1 and 6-3 at No.2 in his first and only season at Idaho.
“Artemiy honestly very easily could have been conference Player of the Year,” Beaman said. “He had wins at No. 1 and No. 2, and he played a big part in doubles. He was a great addition to our team. I wish we would have had him for all four years. He’s a really hard worker and dedicated to getting better. If he would have spent his entire career here he could have been a dominant No. 1 for us.”
Ramos Salazar went 12-5 in singles play on the season, including a 5-4 mark at No. 3 and a 7-1 record at No. 4. He did miss part of the season with injury but came back to help the Vandals win four straight matches heading into the NCAA tournament.
“Cristobal has struggled with injury,” Beaman acknowledged. “He had a long time off and still isn’t 100 percent. He has matured and just made the choice to play through it. He knows he’s not going to feel good the rest of the year. He’s just going to deal with the pain and take a lot of time off at the end of the year. This is the time to step up and having him at the top doubles spot with Jose is one of the best doubles teams in the country in my opinion. He had a lot of wins at the No. 3 singles spot. He was a critical part of our team.”
Ramos Salazar and Bendeck went 13-3 in doubles on the season, all at the No. 1 spot, to earn first-team all-WAC honors. The duo won the ITA Mountain Region doubles tournament in the fall and entered the spring as the top-ranked doubles pairing in the region.
Nikitin and Torres went 4-0 together in doubles, all at the No. 3 position. Beaman said after tinkering with the doubles lineups they landed on the right combination, and it ended up paying huge dividends in the deciding point of the WAC championship match.
“Artemiy and Cesar had played a little bit together at other points during the year,” Beaman said. “Those two guys really clicked on the court. Cesar had not played much of a role in doubles the past few years and he has really stepped up with his confidence and his level of play. They are the ones who clinched the WAC championship under pressure, coming back from down 4-1. Cesar came up big. It wasn’t pretty but he had some amazing volleys and Artemiy had some great volleys as well.”
The resignation of Idaho’s previous women’s tennis coach came just two days before the first match of the 2014 season, leaving Beaman to coach both the men’s and women’s teams for the season. Beaman guided both teams to their first WAC championships and coached the women to their highest ranking in program history, spending countless hours running practice sessions for 19 student-athletes on just two indoor courts, and often travelling from site-to-site to coach both teams during the same weekend. Beaman was WAC men’s coach of the Year in 2013 and the ITA Mountain Region Coach of the Year in 2011.
“You put those hours in for the players who have made a commitment to being part of the team, helping them reach their goals,” Beaman said. “It definitely is personally rewarding seeing the teams win the conference tournament and it’s nice to be recognized by your peers. It was a long year and a very rewarding year and in the end the recognition is appreciated.”