The dreams of consecutive Big Sky Conference titles shattered for the Idaho menâ€™s tennis team on Sunday, as the team fell to No. 1 seed Weber State 4-3 in Sacramento.
The Vandals entered the Big Sky postseason tournament as the No. 2 seed, earning an automatic first round bye in the playoffs.
Idaho squared off against No. 3 seed Northern Arizona Saturday afternoon in a semifinal matchup, earning a commanding 4-1 victory over the Lumberjacks.
Vandal coach Abid Akbar said his team played with confidence in the semifinal matchup.
â€œThe boys are on a mission,â€ Akbar said. Â â€œThey believed in themselves and played very passionate and smart tennis.â€
Idaho earned the doubles point, as senior Jackson Varney and sophomore Artem Vasheshnikov defeated Northern Arizona duo Tim Handel and Ruben Montano 6-4 on the No. 1 court.
The Vandals would secure the point after senior Mark Kovacs and freshman Lucas Coutinho pulled off the 7-6 (6-0) win in a tiebreaker on the No. 3 court.
Vasheshnikov kicked off Idahoâ€™s momentum in singles by defeating Jackson Lee 6-2, 6-1 to earn the teamâ€™s first point in singles, extending their lead to 2-0.
Wins from Kovacs and senior Odon Barta would clinch the championship berth for the Vandals.
Northern Arizona coach Ki Kroll said his teamâ€™s early deficit proved much too difficult for the Lumberjacks to overcome.
â€œWe fell behind early on, but still fought really hard until the end,â€ Kroll said. â€œIâ€™m proud of the way this team competed not only today, but the entire season.â€
The Vandals faced top-ranked Weber State Sunday in the championship meeting. The previous matchÂ between the two programs resulted in a 5-2 Idaho victory in Moscow April 5.
The Wildcats earned momentum early in the matchup by securing the doubles point, as the Vandal duo of Varney and Vashesnikov providedÂ Idahoâ€™s lone doubles win.
In singles play, the Vandals relied on initial victories from Kovacs and Varney to regain a 2-1 advantage over Weber State.
The competition came down to the final set in the sixth and final singles match between Coutinho and Weber State senior Sanjay Goswami.
Goswami defeated Coutinho in the opening set 6-4, but the freshman responded with a 6-2 second set win.
As the match progressed, Barta cruised by Wildcat senior Jakub Gewert to give Idaho the 3-2 to lead. At this point in the match, the Vandals needed one more singles victory to secure the title.
Senior Todd Fought of Weber State changed the momentum of the competition with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 win against sophomore Felipe Fonseca to even the meeting at 3-3.
Back on the No. 6 court, Goswami regained the lead in the third set and held onto it to give the Wildcats the championship point.
â€œWe fought well, just not well enough,â€ Akbar said. â€œI hope the boys have their heads held high because Iâ€™m proud of them.â€
As a result of the tournament victory, Weber State earns an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament May 23-28 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Luis Torres can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TheLTFiles