Bobcat Men’s Tennis Team Preps for Semifinal Match vs. NAU on Friday

BOZEMAN, Montana – Nothing else matters when Montana State takes the court Friday at 9 am MDT for its semifinal match in the Big Sky Conference Men’s Tennis Championships.

Not the program’s first Big Sky regular season championship since 2013, or the No. 79 ranking for MSU’s top doubles team, Jamieson Nathan and Matej Panik, or who advances out of quarterfinal play to face the Cats. It doesn’t matter that the team is playing its first outdoor matches of the season, or that it hasn’t played in the Big Sky Tournament since 2017.

“This is the part of the season that you play all year to get to,” said Montana State coach Trey Morris. “This is the part of the season that you spend all those hours on the court and all those hours in the weight room to be ready for, and as a program and as a staff I think we’ve prepared our guys for this point. I feel very confident in our preparation. ”

Montana State’s first-round match may be one of the most difficult possibilities. The Cats open tournament play as the No. 2 seed and face third-seeded Northern Arizona. The Bobcats topped NAU 5-2 in Bozeman during the regular season, but face arguably the league’s most talented team playing closer to its campus than any other tourney team. And the Lumberjacks have claimed the league title the last two seasons played to completion.

“NAU is an experienced team,” Morris said. “They have guys on that team that have won championships in this conference. They’ve won the tournament, they’ve won the regular season, they’ve got guys throughout their lineup that have done it. They did it last year. They ‘re going to be tough. ”

Morris and his player consistently dismissed any factors other than the team’s preparation and execution throughout the season. Part of that preparation for Friday’s match includes the unique surroundings and setup for this tournament. In Phoenix, the Cats play outdoors for the first time this spring, and play early in the morning.

“For us to be able to get some outdoor tennis in is important. We (practiced) over at Riverside Tennis Club (in Bozeman on Monday), we got used to serving into blue skies, hitting overheads into blue skies instead of into a white ceiling, looking into the sun. We’ll do the same thin in Arizona, we have (outdoor) practice courts set up for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. We got up and practiced early on Tuesday and Wednesday. We’ll see some things we haven’t seen all season, but nothing we haven’t prepared for this week. ”

Adapting to change is built into the equation of playing in the Big Sky, Morris said. “The thing about this conference is that it actually prepares you for a moment like this. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, from a tennis perspective the Big Sky Conference has to be one of the toughest to compete in because you’re constantly changing altitudes. ”

Everything else aside, the greatest challenge the Bobcats face lines up across the net from them. Morris said the task is tall, but not insurmountable.

“They know what it means to play tournament-style tennis,” he said. “We have the quality, like we did the first time we played them, to get ourselves over the edge, but it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a tough battle, and it’s going to be a tough battle at every spot in the lineup. ”

The Bobcats captured a share of the program’s first regular season Big Sky title since 2013 by beating Montana 5-2 last Saturday. Morris calls it “an extremely significant day” that demonstrates that his team di lui is “capable of winning a championship this year.”

Yet the prize that matters lies ahead. “It’s never really been one of our goals to be nationally ranked. We never talked about getting a doubles team into the rankings or going to fall nationals. We never talked about getting a bye in the first round of the tournament. We never talked about that winning the regular season conference championship. All this stuff is great, and of course we’re happy to achieve these things, but it’s not what we set out to do this year. ”

Friday’s match, and the one pairing Friday’s two winners on Saturday at 9 am MDT, give the Bobcats the opportunity they’ve worked for all season. “We set out to be a top four team going into the tournament, we’ve achieved that, and to give ourselves a good opportunity to win the conference tournament. That’s our focus, that’s our goal, it’s been our goal all year, to win the Big Sky Tournament. Like (Georgia football coach) Kirby Smart says, keep the main thing the main thing. ”

Live scoring of MSU’s match Friday is available at msubobcats.com. In the other men’s semifinal, Montana faces top-seeded Idaho.

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