After a fall season spent developing his young squad against some of the top teams in the region and putting the puzzle pieces together on his depth chart, Montana head men’s tennis coach Kris Nord is cautiously optimistic about the Griz as the Big Sky season nears.
It appears other coaches around the league feel the same way.
Montana has been selected to finish fifth in the annual Big Sky preseason coaches’ poll, gathering 93 points – just four points behind No. 4 ranked Northern Arizona, who also earned a single first-place vote.
With Peter Mimnagh-Fleming, this year’s lone senior, set to lead a team that includes four underclassmen and three juniors, Nord says the No. 5 ranking will give his team motivation headed into their first match of the year in early February.
“I think that’s pretty accurate,” said the veteran coach of 35 years. “There’s a lot of parity in our conference, both at the top and in the middle of the table.
“I’m just glad we’re not picked higher than that really. I feel like if we go out and play well, we’ll surprise some people, but I’d rather have our guys feeling slighted and a little more challenged, so I love being at five.”
The Grizzlies finished the 2015-16 season ranked fourth in the Big Sky standings, one place ahead of Sacramento State, who then avenged a regular season loss to UM in the conference tournament. Heading into the 2017 season, the Hornets leapfrogged the Griz, coming in ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll.
The top of the table is something of a log jam, with Idaho picked to win with 110 points, but receiving one less first place vote than Weber State, who are picked No. 2 with 105 points but six first-place votes.
“Weber State and Idaho are tough, and there are teams below us that are tough. Idaho State might be the most improved team in the middle of the pack, so It’s going to be a challenging season for us,” added Nord.
The Griz have finished in the top half of the league standings the last two seasons after winning the Big Sky championship in 2014.
With Nord calling out the ever-important doubles point as an area of improvement for the Griz, Montana will have plenty of firepower headed into the season in singles.
Victor Casadevall, a junior from Spain who produced big wins over standouts from New Mexico, BYU, and Idaho State in the fall, has worked his way to the top of the rotation after a perfect 10-0 sophomore season.
Fellow junior Yannick Schmidl also picked up some big wins in the fall and will join Mimnagh-Fleming and Casadevall as a team leader this spring.
“Our top-three returning guys played great tennis in the fall, and had some very good wins,” said Nord. “I think we can get it together and surprise some people, and that’s where I want to be.”
Montana opens the season at home on Feb. 4, hosting Lewis-Clark State for a doubleheader at the Peak Racquet Club in Missoula. The Griz then hit the road for a pair of Big Sky matches against Northern Colorado and North Dakota on Feb. 10 and 12.
2017 Big Sky Conference Preseason Men’s Tennis Polls
1. Idaho (5) 110
2. Weber State (6) 105
3. Sacramento State 99
4. Northern Arizona (1) 98
5. Montana 93
6. Montana State 61
7. Eastern Washington 54
8. Idaho State 53
9. Portland State 50
10. Northern Colorado 37
11. North Dakota 18
12. Southern Utah 14
First place votes in parenthesis