PULLMAN – Wait, weren’t we done with the NCAA tournament a month ago?
Not for college tennis, and there are two area teams making an appearance this weekend in the big event.
The Washington State women’s team takes on No. 27 LSU in the tournament’s first round at 2 p.m. today in Berkeley, Calif.
The Eastern Washington Eagles face No. 3 UCLA – a 16-time national champion – in the men’s tournament’s first round at noon Saturday, on the Bruins’ home court in Los Angeles.
The Big Sky champion Eagles (18-6), picked to finished fifth in the conference preseason poll, are in the midst of an eight-match winning streak in their best season.
“You couldn’t ask for a better situation,” EWU coach Darren Haworth said of Saturday’s matchup. “These guys have nothing to lose and these guys are going to give it their best shot.”
The Bruins’ lone match loss this season is to top-ranked Virginia. UCLA (21-1) has four nationally ranked athletes in singles ready to take on Eastern’s top three: junior Pannhara Mam, sophomore Nico Riego de Dios and junior Kyle Schraeder.
Instrumental in the Big Sky championship two weeks ago, the three were named to the conference’s first team.
Haworth said he sees Saturday as “just another match on a bigger stage.” If Eastern beats UCLA, it will take on either Washington or Wisconsin on Sunday.
“They’re excited, and it’s an opportunity for them to see what they can do against the best,” he said.
The Cougars women (16-9) narrowly missed a berth in last year’s NCAA tournament. That disappointment helped drive the team into its first tournament appearance since 2002, head coach Lisa Hart said.
The Cougars, built on depth and led by seniors, fought their way through the powerhouse Pac-10 (seven of the conference’s nine teams are in the tournament) with mixed success.
But it was WSU’s strong non-conference wins that earned them a berth this year, the coach said.
“They’ve had an excellent year, and I think all of their hard work is paying off,” she said.
Seniors singles player Ekaterina Burduli will face off against the nation’s No. 15 player in LSU’s Megan Falcon.
If the Cougars advance, they will face either California or Army in the second round Saturday.