WAC Men's Tournament Preview: Bulldogs Come Full Circle Against Tulsa
April 20, 2005
HONOLULU - The joy in head coach Jay Udwadia's voice was evident. It was March 10 and his team had just defeated 15th-ranked Harvard in the first round of the Blue-Gray Tennis Classic in Montgomery, Ala., and he had good news to report back to the folks in Fresno.
The 4-2 win improved the Bulldogs to a stunning 8-2 on the year. This, coming from a team that abruptly lost its head coach in late August and were finally able to find a replacement in late October. And as soon as Udwadia, who went 17-6 and won a league title in his only year at Drake, took over, he discovered the team's top returning player, Greg Shearer, would be transferring to Baylor at the conclusion of the fall semester.
Taking over as late as he did meant for most of the fall the team did not have the leadership necessary to participate in many crucial tournaments. Strike one.
Shearer, an All-WAC performer in 2004, was headed out of town. Strike two.
Not exactly the perfect position to be in, an 0-2 count before the season gets underway. And despite foundering in the second half of the season, it would certainly be within the bounds of logic to consider Fresno State's performance in Udwadia's first year a success.
Instead of fueling confidence, the upset of Harvard in mid-March led to an inexplicable downward spiral for the Bulldogs. It all started the following day with a 4-2 loss to Tulsa. Close matches against nationally-ranked opponents such as Rice, Clemson and Boise State followed, yet all resulted in defeats.
It all comes full circle this week, when Fresno State takes on the same Tulsa team against which it started its slump over a month ago. The Bulldogs lost on that day, termed "the windiest in the history of tennis" by Udwadia, by a final score of 4-2. But it was close enough to produce positive thoughts by the Fresno State head coach, who is adamant on returning the program to the glory days, which ran from 1994-01. During that time, the Bulldogs won two WAC titles, reached the NCAA round of 16 five times and the Elite Eight once.
To do that, Fresno State will be forced to do a 180 against WAC opposition - the Bulldogs have lost six of their last seven matches against league foes, including four of five in the WAC Tournament. It all starts in Honolulu on Friday at noon PT (9 a.m. in Honolulu).
WAC Men's Tennis Tournament PreviewBoise State
Receives first round bye
Like the famous general with whom he shares a surname, Boise State head coach Greg Patton always seems to get the best out of his players when the chips are on the line. At No. 30, the Broncos are the WAC's highest ranked team and finished the regular season red-hot, winning six in a row and 12 of their last 13. It's never wise to bet against a Patton-coached team in the postseason, which is why BSU may be the odds-on pick to win the whole thing.
BSU notes of note: This is Greg Patton's second stint as head coach at Boise State. After building the program to a top 25 team in the late 1990's, he left to take a job with the United States Tennis Association. He returned in 2003 and led BSU to a surprising WAC Tournament title ... a panel of experts has voted Boise as the WAC's best road city ... when in Boise, visitors are strongly recommended to visit the Ha Penny Restaurant and Bar, located right downtown, for the best food and atmosphere anywhere in the conference ... the Broncos only played one WAC team this year - that being Fresno State last weekend. BSU won that match 5-2.
The defending conference champions, Rice is not exactly blazing a trail of success into this year's tournament. The Owls lost three of their last four matches, including a 5-1 defeat at the hands of SMU on Saturday. A tough 2005 schedule is one thing Rice does have going for it. The team has played such top 25-ranked teams as Oklahoma State (currently 15th), Tulane (19th) and Florida State (25th) this year, with the win over the Cowboys being Rice's best of the year. To win, the Owls almost certainly need victories from No. 1 singles player Robert Searle (15-3 in dual matches), who can help make up for a soft middle of the lineup.
Rice notes of note: Rice is one of three league schools that sponsor a men's tennis team which will be leaving for Conference USA following this season ... the Owls went 2-1 against WAC opponents this year, beating Fresno State and Tulsa while losing to SMU ... Rice's WAC title last year was the first ever for its men's tennis program ... the Owls went just 3-3 in their last six matches, with two of the three victories coming against Lamar and Abilene Christian.
Like Rice, SMU is a perennial title contender and is also bolting for Conference USA following the season. But unlike the Owls, SMU appears to be peaking at the right time. The Mustangs upset Rice in Houston last weekend and began April on a strong note, taking out Notre Dame, Texas-Arlington and Colorado with relative ease. SMU started 5-0, mostly due to a soft early schedule, but then as the schedule grew tougher, victories became more difficult to find. After the fast start, the Mustangs went just 5-9 in their next 14 matches before rebounding for a nice stretch drive. SMU's win over Rice could give it confidence heading into a probable rematch with the Owls in Saturday's semifinals.
SMU notes of note: The Mustangs have won two WAC titles - 1998 and 2002 ... SMU's best results have come from Peter Oredsson, who has gone 23-10 while playing everywhere from No. 2 to 5 in the lineup ... since 1999, SMU and Fresno State have played four epic 4-3 matches against each other, with each school winning twice ... you can always count on SMU to provide one of the league's best names. Back in 2001, the Mustangs' top player was Genius Chidzikwe. This year, it's Gwinyai Chingoka.
Tulsa stormed out of the gates this spring, winning its first seven matches while fueling hopes of a top 25 ranking. Unfortunately, those were dashed by a grueling schedule in February and March that resulted in a stretch that saw TU drop seven of nine. After consecutive wins over in April over Arkansas, SMU and TCU appeared to have the team turned around, the Golden Hurricane fell to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to finish the regular season. While neither of the Oklahoma schools are exactly slouches, the fact remains that this Tulsa team is hard to get a grip on. They've got the talent to make a run at the title, but that will mean putting together solid tennis for three consecutive days, which would result in the school's first ever WAC title.
TU notes of note: Tulsa is home to the finest tennis facility in the WAC and one of the best in the nation, the Michael Case Tennis Center, the building of which was spearheaded by current head coach Vince Westbrook. It was the home site for the 2004 NCAA Men's Tournament ... TU plays Fresno State in the first round. The Hurricane took out the Bulldogs during the regular season 4-2 ... remember, don't refer to the University of Tulsa as "UT" (that's Texas), and don't call them the Golden Hurricanes. That'll make people from Tulsa mad, and there are few things worse than a ticked off Tulsa native.
Fresno State began the season a surprising 8-2, then faltered to a 2-8 finish. The Bulldogs probably aren't quite as good as they started and they aren't nearly as poor as they finished. Yet this team has surpassed expectations after losing their former head coach, Brad Dancer, in late August and then not hiring current coach Jay Udwadia until late October. Throw in the departure of top player Greg Shearer, who elected to transfer to Baylor in December, and Udwadia's crew has done a remarkable job this year. But do they have enough to end the program's longest WAC title drought? If so, they'll have to start winning at the bottom of the lineup. Fresno State has gone just 2-20 at Nos. 5 and 6 in the last 13 matches.
Fresno State notes of note: The Bulldogs lose only one of their top seven players (Andy Sinn) from this year's team ... Fresno State has lost in the first round of the WAC Tournament in two of the last three years. Until 2002, the team had never been defeated in its opening round WAC contest ... this year is the 10-year anniversary of one of the most painful losses in program history - a 4-3 setback in the WAC Tournament championship match at New Mexico. Fresno State's top singles player, Fredrik Bergh, who would later go on to be the national runner-up in singles, had a 5-0 lead in the third set against Tad Berkowitz in the final match on court, only to have Berkowitz save three championship points and come all the way back to win. The author of these games notes was on that team and just threw a pen out of frustration at the recollection of that match (5-0 in the third set!). Of course, Fresno State did come back the following week to throttle New Mexico 4-1 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in front of over 1,000 fans in Fresno.
Head coach John Nelson helped build a nice new tennis center to host this year's WAC Tournament. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of his efforts, thus far, to build a successful men's tennis program on the island. The Rainbow Warriors have always struggled against Division I competition, and this year was no different (a victory against Xavier, notwithstanding). Simply put, a UH championship run would rank as one of the all-time upsets in league history. But they are hosting the event this year, and more than anyone they should be able to handle the tricky trade winds (20 to 30 mph daily) that will wreak havoc with the rest of the field. That should count for something.
UH notes of note: Hawaii has already scored a victory in our book - they put up protective netting between the adjacent softball field and tennis center to protect tennis players from long home runs ... head coach John Nelson was the coach at San Diego State before accepting the rebuilding position at Hawaii. Word is that he's one heck of a golfer ... although UH has never been a big name on the national level, give Nelson this much - he's been a winner wherever he's been (UC Davis, San Diego State) ... watch out for Ryan Sceats at No. 3 singles. He went 12-2 this year in duals.
Probably all you need to know about Nevada's year comes from a look at some of its losses - Lewis and Clark, Utah State (twice), Sante Fe, Montana State, Northern Arizona. Tough times for good-guy coach Ryan Johnson, who is hamstrung by a lack of a decent on-campus facility and not much of a successful history. Still, if the Wolf Pack have at all taken on the personality of their head coach, expect them to give a dogged effort against Rice in the first round.
Nevada notes of note: Head coach Ryan Johnston played for current Hawaii coach John Nelson when Nelson was at San Diego State ... Johnston was a nationally-ranked doubles player who could hit the heck out of his forehand ... the University of Nevada is located at one of the highest altitudes of any WAC school. Honolulu, obviously, is located at sea level. We're not really sure what that means, but we thought we'd throw that out there.