Before the season began, the Idaho menâ€™s tennis team was picked to finish second in the conference behind Weber State.
After several months of play, the prediction came true.
The Vandals posted a 9-2 conference record to enter the Big Sky Tournament as the No. 2 seed with a four-game win streak. Idaho earned an automatic first-round bye in the preseason tournament with the second seed.
Senior Jackson Varney said he views the seeding as an opportunity for the team to compete to the best of their abilities.
â€œOverall the boys are pretty happy to have one less match,â€ Varney said. â€œLast year we came in fresh going into the finals and had one match prior. Iâ€™m sure the benefits of having that extra day of rest will show.â€
Idaho head coach Abid Akbar said the team is not changing its mindset heading into the matchup.
â€œWeâ€™re working on little things right now, so thereâ€™s nothing different the teamâ€™s been doing in preparation for the tournament,â€ Akbar said. â€œWe did some of our quickness agility exercises and did a full practice, but itâ€™s just been normal like any other tournament weâ€™ve been preparing for all season. I wouldnâ€™t change anything.â€
Freshman Artem Vasheshnikov said the team does not feel any pressure to repeat as champions. He said the program has been making progress down the final stretch of the season.
â€œWeâ€™ve done good work this month, but now weâ€™re working on little things,â€ Vasheshnikov said. â€œRight now, the team isnâ€™t pressured, and Iâ€™m simply concentrating on whatâ€™s ahead like any other game.â€
Akbar said the team enters the tournament in a good position after defeating Idaho State 7-0 in the season finale.
â€œGetting one of the top two seeds has been my goal this season,â€ Akbar said. â€œAfter our loss against Northern Colorado, we didnâ€™t really have any comfort of doing things wrong for the rest of the season â€¦ Two losses in conference is not a bad place to be sitting as the No. 2 seed.â€
Akbar said his main goal for the tournament is to maintain the energy level of his athletes.
With the first round bye, Idaho will compete against the highest-remaining seed in the second round Saturday.
The Vandals will look to repeat as conference champions after defeating Northern Arizona last year to claim the programâ€™s 11th Big Sky title.
Akbar said the team has the goal of returning to the NCAA tournament.
â€œWe put ourselves in a great spot to win the conference again,â€ Akbar said. â€œPlaying two matches instead of three is a great situation, and Iâ€™m very confident we can win it if we do our play right.â€
Varney said the teamâ€™s status as the defending conference champion will motivate the team in the Big Sky postseason.
â€œWeâ€™ve really come together the last month pretty strongly after dealing with adversity,â€ Varney said. â€œThe boys are starting to find their groove and a bit of passion because their hard work is paying off.â€
Luis Torres can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TheLTFiles