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February 20, 2014

PLU faces tough road competition to open 2014 spring season

PARKLAND – The Pacific Lutheran men's tennis team takes on its first collegiate opponents of the 2014 spring season this weekend when the Lutes head to Oregon for a pair of Northwest Conference matches against George Fox and Lewis & Clark. PLU takes on George Fox Friday night at 6 p.m. at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver before wrapping up the road trip at 1 p.m. on Saturday against Lewis & Clark.

Pacific Lutheran looks to continue a climb up the Northwest Conference rankings that has seen the Lutes improve from seventh in 2011 to fifth in 2013 and third last season. The Lutes advanced to the NWC semifinals, where they fell to a George Fox team that finished the year second in the conference.

"They're returning some top players at the top of their ladder and have a pretty deep team," PLU head coach Rocky Poulin said. "They're a very strong first opponent for us, so it will be a good test for us."

The Bruins shut the Lutes out 5-0 in the semifinals to go with a 9-0 regular season win over PLU. That extended GFU's win streak against PLU to five consecutive matches after the Lutes won the first 23 meetings between the two teams stretching back to 1996. In the season-opening match, the Lutes will hope to avenge last season's finale and begin a new win streak against the Bruins, but Poulin knows that will be a difficult task.

"George Fox traditionally is a very high-energy team," Poulin said. "They play with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy, so as we come to play them we'll make sure that we are composed and bring out own sense of urgency and energy as well."

Saturday's opponent will be a Lewis & Clark team that finished fifth in the NWC and boasts a strong young corps of talent.

"Lewis & Clark last year had a very tough top end of the ladder with some young talent who are all returning, plus they probably have one of the stronger recruiting classes this year of incoming freshmen," Poulin said. "So once again, they're going to be a tough test for us as well on the second day of the two-day trip."

PLU took down the Pioneers 6-3 in last year's matchup, with one of the Lutes' winners in that match returning this season. Brandon Bulaclac won a singles match, and he teamed up to claim a doubles win for the Lutes. He will likely play a key role if PLU hopes to win this weekend, along with team captains Neal Berg and Sam Angel and newcomers Sam Stadter and James Okubo.

"We'll have to definitely come, again just like the George Fox match, with a lot of energy, a lot of composure and just take care of ourselves and take care of the ball when it's on our side of the net and just do the best we can," Poulin said.

Lewis & Clark broke a 47-match PLU win streak with a narrow 5-4 win over the Lutes in 2012, but PLU got back in the win column against the Pioneers with last season's victory and is 49-6 all-time against L&C.

After the two road matches, the Lutes return home next weekend to host Pacific and Willamette in the first intercollegiate home contests of the season at Sprinker Recreation Center.