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Lutes Face George Fox in NWC Men's Tennis Semis

Jason Bower
Jason Bower

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT: Pacific Lutheran meets George Fox at 5 p.m. Saturday in a semifinal match of the Northwest Conference Men's Tennis Championships being hosted by Whitman College. The Lutes enter the four-team event as the No. 3 seed and George Fox is the No. 2 seed based on the regular season standings. Tournament host Whitman, undefeated in 101 consecutive Northwest Conference matches, is the No. 1 seed and hosts No. 4 Pacific at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The two semifinal winners play for the conference tournament title at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with the winner earning the NWC's automatic berth in the NCAA Division III national tournament.

TOURNAMENT NOTES: The Lutes finished the regular season with an 11-7 overall record, including a 9-3 conference record that netted them six points in the round-robin-and-a-half NWC schedule format. Of their three conference losses, one came to George Fox (9-0) and two were at the hands of Whitman (7-2 and 8-1). George Fox finished 11-1 in the conference and earned seven points, with its only loss coming to Whitman by an 8-1 margin. Despite finishing in seventh place based on won-loss record, Pacific picked up four points and edged Willamette for the fourth-and-final playoff spot. Whitman beat Pacific by 8-1 and 9-0 scores this season.

PREVIOUS MEETING: While the Lutes lost at George Fox by a 9-0 score back on Feb. 22, the match was closer than the final score indicates. The Bruins, at the time, were ranked No. 11 in the West Region. They got off to a 3-0 start after doubles play, winning a close 8-6 match at No. 2 where Justin McClain and Peter Brown defeated PLU's Taylor Dickey and Jason Bower. The hosts also benefitted from an injury default at No. 3 when Jake Yannello was hurt and unable to continue. While the Bruins won three of the singles matches in straight sets, the Lutes took them to a super tiebreaker in two matches and to three sets in another.

COACH ROCKY POULIN SAYS: "The coaching staff is very proud of the team this year and all they have accomplished this season. With so many new faces and so much youth, it has been rewarding to see the men respond to the challenges set from the coaching staff. So many players have stepped up and worked so hard to get to where we are today. The guys did it the 'Lute way.' We are excited to hopefully take on the only two conference teams we have lost to this season and make another trip to the NCAA tourney."

REGIONAL RANKINGS: Pacific Lutheran is ranked 14th and George Fox is ranked 10th in the most recent NCAA Division III West Region rankings as listed on Whitman ranks sixth and Pacific is 15th.

LUTE DUO INVITED TO PLAY AT OJAI: Pacific Lutheran will be represented by sophomore Luke Olson and freshman Jason Bower at the 113th Ojai Tennis Tournament to be held April 26-29 in Ojai, Calif. Ojai is the largest small college tennis tournament on the West Coast, and one of the largest in the country. Both players are entered in the singles bracket and will also play doubles together, though they had different partners during the regular season.

LAST WEEK: Pacific Lutheran defeated Whitworth 5-4 on Friday and lost 7-2 and 8-1 to Whitman on Saturday in home matches to conclude the regular season schedule. Whitworth won all three doubles points to put Pacific Lutheran in a hole, but the team rallied to win five of the six singles matches to pull out the win. Three of the six singles matches went to a third set, with PLU's lone senior, Taylor Dickey, winning the deciding point with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win over Blake Miller at the No. 6 spot. The other three-set winner for PLU was Mitch Yannello with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 triumph over Chris Engelman. Whitworth's lone victory in singles came from Williams by a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 score over Bower at No. 1. The other singles matches all went to the Lutes in straight sets, Olson beating Brigham 6-3, 6-0 at No. 2, Angel topping Talbot 7-5, 6-1 at No. 3, and Jake Yannello taking down Dustin McConnell 6-1, 7-6 (0) at No. 5. "Once again our depth helped us after an uncharacteristic showing in losing all three doubles matches," PLU head coach Rocky Poulin said. "We showed a lot of heart and grit and battled our way to sweep singles two through six. Luke Olson set the tone with an amazing match, so the momentum started to shift in our favor and the guys capitalized off of that." In the first match against Whitman, the Lutes started out with wins in two of the three doubles matches, but the Missionaries' depth proved to be too much as they won all six singles contests in straight sets. In fact, Whitman lost as many as five games in only two of the matches in rallying for the team win. Sam Angel and Luke Olson defeated James Rivers and Steven Rosten, 8-6, to win at No. 2 doubles, and Mitch Yannello and Jake Yannello combined for an 8-5 win over Matt Tesmond and Sam Sadeghi at No. 3 doubles. In the second match, Dickey picked up PLU's only victory in the second match with a 4-6, 7-5, 1-0 (10-5) super-tiebreaker victory over Atanas Atanasov.

SEATTLE MATCH CANCELLED AFTER ALL: A non-conference match at Seattle University that had been rescheduled from March 16 to April 16 was not played.

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