(Editor’s note: Story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – After advancing to a second-straight tournament championship in 2018, Coaches around the Big Sky Conference have selected the Montana men’s tennis team to finish second, while the women have been picked to finish eighth in a pair of preseason polls the league announced Tuesday.
The Grizzly men will seek a 29th-consecutive appearance in the Big Sky tournament in 2019, but despite high expectations from the conference Montana will have to do it with a young, nine-man squad built with six true freshmen.
“I think being picked second is a tribute to the success of the program over the past ten years or so. Hopefully we live up to that, and hopefully, we exceed it. But with such a young team we have a lot of work to do,” said second-year head coach Jason Brown.
Gone are two of the top players in Griz tennis history, seniors Yannick Schmidl and Victor Casadevall, each first-team All-Big Sky selections a season ago. Also lost to graduation is Ignacio Tejerina, who provided reliable wins in the lower order.
Alex Canellopoulos, who (along with Schmidl) became the first doubles player in UM history to be nationally ranked by the ITA at No. 77, returns to lead the youthful Grizzly outfit as the team’s lone senior in 2019.
Juniors Max Korkh and Ludvig Hallgren – each coming off tournament wins in the fall – provide the only other upperclassmen experience on this year’s squad, with six freshmen competing for one of three spots remaining in the lineup.
Montana picked up 74 total points in the poll to come in second behind Northern Arizona but did not tally any first-place votes. The Griz edged out Idaho by two points in the poll, with the Vandals securing 72 points and a pair of first-place votes, while the surging Southern Utah Thunderbirds were picked fourth with 69 points and a single first-place vote.
The Montana women find themselves looking up the Big Sky table once again after being tabbed to finish eighth for the second-straight season.
Led by seniors Nathalie Joanlanne and Lidia Dukic, the Griz return with a powerful lineup from top to bottom in 2019, paced by sophomores Julia Ronney, who earned All-Big Sky honors as a freshman, and Bianca Bostrom, who won her first collegiate title at Gonzaga in the fall.
Deep on experience and talent, Grizzly coach Steve Ascher believes this year’s squad is on an upward trajectory and has the ability to return to the top of the conference standings for the first time since 2014’s regular season conference championship.
“We’ll use this as motivation, for sure,” said Ascher, a two-time Big Sky Coach of the Year. “The team is gelling. I think our team chemistry is good and everyone is motivated. I think the expectation of being great is back.”
Northern Arizona was also selected to win the women’s tournament in this season’s preseason poll with 98 points and eight first-place votes. Led by three-time Big Sky MVP Marianna Petrei, Idaho also picked up three first-place votes and 93 points to come in second on the poll, followed by Sacramento State (78 points) and Eastern Washington (71 points.)
The Griz collected a total of 37 points at eighth place in the poll, three more than Montana State’s 34-point haul.
The Montana women open the most challenging nonconference schedule in program history on Friday, Jan. 18 in Missoula with a doubleheader against the nationally ranked Washington State Cougars beginning at 9:30 a.m. at Missoula’s PEAK Racquet Club.
The Griz will then host Michigan State at the PEAK on Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. before hitting the road to take on Minnesota and Colorado in Minneapolis.
The Montana men open the season on Jan. 19 at Gonzaga and return home for two nonconference matches against Whitman and Montana State in Missoula on Feb. 2 and 3.
2019 Big Sky Men’s Tennis Preseason Poll
Rank, School, Points, (First Place Votes)
1 Northern Arizona 98 (8)
2 Montana 74
3 Idaho 72 (2)
4 Southern Utah 69 (1)
5 Weber State 68
6 Portland State 58
7 Sacramento State 57
8 Montana State 38
9 Idaho State 36
10 Eastern Washington 25
11 Northern Colorado 10
2019 Big Sky Women’s Tennis Preseason Poll
Rank, School, Points (First Place Votes)
1 Northern Arizona 98 (8)
2 Idaho 93 (3)
3 Sacramento State 78
4 Eastern Washington 71
5 Weber State 60
6 Idaho State 57
7 Southern Utah 47
8 Montana 37
9 Montana State 34
10 Northern Colorado 18
11 Portland State 12