After three consecutive road losses against a couple of PAC-12 teams, The Lumberjacks Women’s Tennis team looked to bounce back at home against the Utah State Aggies Saturday. This home match-up is the first one for the Lumberjacks since Jan. 23 where they were able to defeat the Dixie State Trailblazers 7-0 for the second straight match.
After their strong start their season, the Lumberjacks were tasked with taking on No. 24 ranked Arizona State. To follow that up, they then went down to Tucson for a pair of matches against Arizona and were met with blowing defeats.
“It changes how we play,” NAU head coach Ewa Bogusz said about playing at home versus on the road, “the pace is a lot faster here, we trained for it”.
Utah State came into the Aquatic and Tennis Complex on Saturday in a very similar situation as the Lumberjacks. The Aggies have been nursing a three-game winning streak that began with a tough 3-4 loss to Idaho State on Jan. 31. Since their season-opening win against Dixie State, the Aggies have dropped matches to the aforementioned Idaho State, as well as Denver and Colorado. This match marks the third out of five in the Aggies early-season road trip.
Using what they had learned from their PAC-12 tour, the Lumberjacks rose to the challenge and elevated their play. In their first doubles match of the day, junior Gabrielle Dekkers and sophomore Renata Lombera of Utah State defeated the NAU duo of senior Ellie Millard and sophomore Mimi Bland by a score of 6-2.
Both of the other matches, however, went down to the wire. Both matches were at one point tied at 4 games apiece.
The second match ended with NAU’s sophomore Elinor Beazley and freshman Gina Dittmann making a late push to beat junior Annaliese County and sophomore Zara Ryan six games to four.
Momentum at that point swung in favor of the Lumberjacks as the players cheered on for their teammates still in their match.
In that final match, the Lumberjacks pulled through thanks to a strong outing from the Scottsdale squad of senior Madi Moore and freshman Ava Neyestani, who defeated redshirt freshman Lillian Okamoto and sophomore Carolina Millan 6-3.
With the Lumberjacks winning two of the three doubles matches, they were able to add one point to their overall point total.
On to the singles matches, the Lumberjacks came out strong early with Mimi Bland destroying freshman Lisa Küng in straight sets, 6-1 and 6-2.
Soon after, Neyestani was able to hold on in the second set 6-4 after having swept the first set.
Similar things could be said about Beazley’s match against freshman Naya Tillitt. Beazley outlasted her opponent in a tough 6-4 first set victory. She was able to come into her own the second time around winning the next set 6-1.
Utah State elected to play a few players in singles matches that hadn’t participated in the doubles portion. Both Küng and Tillitt played exclusively in singles matches, which could have contributed to their early losses having not been warmed up.
Barely two hours into the day, NAU had already clinched victory over Utah State with its doubles victory and a slew of singles wins.
There were still three singles matches yet to conclude by the time the Lumberjack women took the win.
The longer the matches went, the more intense they turned. The marquee match to watch for was Gina Dittmann taking on Millan. The freshman Lumberjack has been on a tear this season with her only loss coming against ASU’s Ilze Hattingh in a match that went on to a deep tiebreaker requiring 10 winning games.
While Dittmann had to push hard, she was able to win in straight sets 6-4 and 6-3. A combination of limiting unforced errors on serves as well as incredible backhand returns showed that the rising freshman was superior.
While this was a very strong win for the Lumberjacks, Bogusz ensured that it was no time for her girls to let up.
“Everything can be improved, if we had nothing to work on then we shouldn’t be here,” Bogusz said.
The Aggies had to fight tooth and nail to come away with their two wins. Zara Ryan had to go to a tiebreaker in the first set against Ellie Millard to win it 7-5. The second set fared a bit easier for Ryan who came away with a 6-3 win without ever losing the lead.
The match between Annaliese County and Madi Moore was to only one to go beyond two sets. Despite losing the first set, Moore rallied thanks to the support from her teammates that had already finished to force a third tie-breaking set that she would eventually lose.
The Lumberjacks now move to 3-3 on the season with all their wins coming at home and all losses on the road. This trend showed work in NAU’s favor as they have a pair of home match-ups coming up against Wyoming and New Mexico on Feb. 27 and Mar. 7, respectively.