Bobcats Host UM Saturday with Big Sky Title at Stake

BOZEMAN, Montana – Montana State’s final regular season men’s tennis match of 2022 on Saturday offers plenty of significance in the moment.

A share of the Big Sky Championship is on the line Saturday when Montana State hosts Montana in the Bobcat-Anderson Tennis Center at 4 pm, an accomplishment that has escaped the Bobcats since 2013. But for third-year Bobcat coach Trey Morris and his players, it’s the represents a much longer process.

“We’re excited,” he said. “The guys are working hard and embracing the opportunity to compete for a trophy on Saturday. We’ve been working toward this, myself and our staff and the players, since the first day I stepped on campus at MSU. For us to have the opportunity on Saturday to achieve something we’ve talked about for the last three years is really exciting. “

The Bobcats enter Saturday’s Cat-Griz match with a 6-1 league record, the only loss coming at Idaho. The Vandals also stand 6-1 after a loss against Sacramento State two weeks ago was overturned on Monday due to the Hornets manipulating their lineup, and play at Portland State on Saturday (9 am MT). Two teams lurk behind MSU and Idaho. UM and NAU both stand 5-2 in the Big Sky, with NAU squaring off against 4-3 Idaho State in Flagstaff (11 am MDT).

With so much riding on Saturday ‘match, and hype that rises to the level of a Cat-Griz showdown, Morris said he laid the scenario out for his team on Monday then proceeded into as normal a week of practice as is possible. “We want them to know what this match entails and what’s on the line,” he said. “Any great competitor, any big-match player, wants to know what he’s playing for. I think the last thing you should tell a player is, after the fact, ‘Here’s what you could have done today.’ Any great competitor wants to know what’s on the line, and will push that little bit of extra to make things happen. “

A pair of familiar named the Bobcats in unfamiliar roles. Junior Nejc Sitar owns a 13-5 overall record, 4-2 in Big Sky play, mostly at the No. 5 spot in the lineup. At the No. 6 ladder spot, Joaquin Espinoza is 14-4 overall, 7-0 in league play.

“We’ve been very tough at the bottom of the lineup,” Morris said, “but we have good players at all six spots. We think we have the opportunity to win everywhere in the lineup in every match.”

Sophomore Daan Van Dijk has grown seemingly each week after transitioning to the top ladder position. The reigning Big Sky Player of the Week earned a dramatic three-set win at No. 1 singles and a tie-breaker victory at No. 2 doubles against Sacramento State last week. Van Dijk is 3-4 against the Big Sky’s top players, while Matej Panikat No. 2, is 6-0 against the Big Sky. Jamieson Nathan claims a 6-1 record playing primarily at No. 3, while Brad Buckland is 3-4 at No. 4 against Big Sky competition.

Morris said the factor his team hangs its hat on at all times is what he looks to propel it during its most important week. “We’ve prepared really well this year for competition,” he said. “To be honest there is significance (to this week) but we want to stay in our routine and make things normal. We’ve been practicing well and preparing well for the most part all season so that’s what it’s all about.”

Match time is 4 pm Saturday.


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