With a ticket already punched for the Big Sky Tournament, the Idaho menâ€™s tennis team looks to improve its position in the conference standings following a 7-0 sweep over Eastern Washington.
Idaho sits second in the Big Sky Conference rankings. The Vandals own a 7-2 conference record and the team is 13-5 overall.
The Vandals only trail conference leader Weber State, who is 8-0 in conference play. With an Idaho victory over the Wildcats this Friday â€” combined with two Weber State losses after that â€” the Vandals have the opportunity to clinch the No. 1 seed.
Idaho head coach Abid Akbar said he is thankful to be in the tournament, regardless of seeding. He said the Big Sky Conference is home to a number of competitive programs.
â€œWeber State especially has been pretty dominating,â€ he said. â€œBut from No. 2 to No. 7, it has been pretty even. Itâ€™s like last year â€” you never know when youâ€™re going to make it, but it feels good to be in there.â€
Akbar said the younger team members have relied on leadership from seniors Odon Barta and Jackson Varney. Three members of the Vandals roster are freshman: Lucas Coutinho, Peter Shin and Artem Vasheshnikov.
â€œYou look for those guys who have been around longer, who are older,â€ Akbar said. â€œThey know what it takes. They lead.â€
Barta has played for the Vandals since the 2013 season, after transferring from Texas A&M. Akbar placed the senior in the No. 1 singles spot after watching the athleteâ€™s performance over the years.
Varney has also been a major contributor to the team during his short tenure at Idaho.Â He said he was thankful for the effort of his teammates that helped him reach this point.
â€œEven in the midst of mid-terms and academics starting to get tougher, the boys come out and have a good grind,â€ Varney said. â€œThatâ€™s imperative. You can see their desire to win.â€
Idaho will look to utilize that desire to overcome Weber State Friday. The matchup serves as a potential preview of the Big Sky Conference championship if both programs continue their current performances on the court.
Other contenders for a postseason title include Sacramento State, Northern Arizona and Montana.
The Hornets also recently clinched a spot in the Big Sky Tournament. After a rough start to the season which included a seven-game losing streak, Sacramento State has turned the season around in conference play, going 8-3 against Big Sky opponents.
Montanaâ€™s performance has given the team a third place position in the conference standings.
Northern Arizonaâ€™s nonconference schedule at the beginning of the season was rigorous, but the team has seen a recent improvement in performance against Big Sky opponents.
The Vandals have already defeated Montana and Northern Arizona earlier this year.
The Big Sky Tournament will be held in Sacramento April 29 through May 1.
Brandon Hill can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @brandonmtnhillÂ Â