With lessons learned from an up and down opening weekend of Big Sky Conference play, the Montana men’s tennis team heads to Salt Lake City on Sunday to see if they can put those lessons to work against the Pac-12’s Utah Utes.
The Grizzlies, who went 1-1 last week at Northern Colorado and North Dakota, will play the Utes on Feb. 19, in a one-off match that gets underway at 6 p.m. at the George S. Eccles Tennis Center.
Montana (3-1, 1-1 BSC) will have its hand full against a Utah squad (8-1) that veteran Grizzly head coach Kris Nord says is one of the best the Utes have fielded in recent memory.
Utah is fresh off wins at BYU and Boise State, as well as recent victories over Northern Arizona and Montana State.
Against Boise State last week, the Utes fell behind early, losing the doubles point to the Broncos, before making quick work of the Broncos in the singles for a come-from-behind win.
“It’s the best team Utah has had for a while. They’re loaded. We saw them in the fall, and they are a very deep six,” said Nord.
With wins over UND and Lewis-Clark State, a loss at UNC in the books, and a home match against the Bobcats on the horizon, the Griz need to make up for lost progress toward a return trip to the Big Sky tournament in the coming weeks.
This weekend’s trip to Utah will provide UM’s young group of netters the chance to sharpen their games before the meat of the league schedule rolls around, says Nord.
“We have no room to go get nervous at matches from here on. We used all those cards in Greeley. It puts our back against the wall, and we have to play well from here out.”
Montana’s doubles teams are undefeated so far on the season, but five-straight singles losses to the UNC Bears put UM on the back foot.
The Yannick Schmidl and Alexander Canellopoulos duo have continued to impress in doubles, going 3-0 to date. Freshman Max Korkh has also been effective with his senior dubs partner Peter Mimnagh-Fleming, who sit at 4-0.
Schmidl and Mimnagh-Fleming have split time on the one and two singles courts for the Griz, with Schmidl at 2-1 on one, and Fleming 2-1 on the second court, providing steady leadership at the top of the card.
With the Utes presenting the team’s biggest challenge to date, Nord hopes to see marked improvement from his squad up and down the lineup.
“I want to see better mental decisions being made on the court. I want to see more toughness and grit. We talk about winning ugly, if shots aren’t going well, we have to find out what will work. It may not be fun to play that way, but we have to find that gear,” added Nord.
Montana returns home next week to face Montana State on Feb. 25 in another tune-up match that won’t count toward the official Big Sky standings. That match is set to get underway at noon, and, weather pending, will be held at the PEAK Racquet Club in Missoula or outdoors at the Lindsay Tennis Center