Coming off a strong 6-1 win over the Seattle University Redhawks two days prior, the Lumberjacks looked to improve their winning streak to three against the Idaho State Bengals. After starting the season 0-7, the Bengals have gone 4-1. Their last match was a 4-3 victory at Grand Canyon University on Tuesday.
With the Bengals on a roll lately, this matchup was an opportunity for them to take back control of this rivalry. NAU has been in the driver’s seat against Idaho State, winning eight of the 11 total matchups against the Bengals, including the last six matches. Idaho State has not beaten NAU since March 2014. The Bengals never scored more than four points against the Lumberjacks entering today’s game, which they lost by a 6-1 score.
Despite losing the doubles point against Seattle, NAU brought the same team-ups against this Idaho State team that last won their doubles point on March 20 against the Montana State Bobcats in their only home match so far.
The battle on court two showed just how strong the Bengals are in doubles play compared to the Lumberjacks. The NAU duo of senior Chris Steele and freshman Dominick Buzonics had no answer for Idaho State’s freshman tandem of Wikus Robbertse and Robert Steinhauser as they lost in quick fashion, 6-1.
On court one, NAU junior Facundo Tumosa and sophomore Alex Groves looked to redeem themselves after dropping their Wednesday doubles match. The Bengals sent in juniors Patrik Trhac and Aleksander Petrovic. While rallies went on for quite a while, Idaho State had the upper hand, winning 6-4. Tumosa and Groves haven’t won a complete doubles match since March 8 against Utah State.
On court three, NAU freshman Maciej Ziomber and junior Daniel Dillion got off to a fast start by leading 3-0. Idaho State’s pair of graduate students Jaime Castillo-Lopez and Gary Rendek mounted a comeback to improve the lead to 4-2. Facing off against a graduate student, let alone two is something rare, but the Lumberjacks took on the challenge with strength. NAU took one more point, closing the lead to 4-3, but since the other two matches had already ended in the Bengals’ favor, the match was called short with Idaho State taking the doubles point to lead 1-0.
“Compared to Wednesday, we lost the doubles point so we really had to respond,” NAU head coach Maciej Bogusz said.
Singles play looked like it could turn the table for NAU. Each player won their first game of set one.
Starting off on court one, Tumosa brought his hot hand from Wednesday to face off against Trhac. The Lumberjack only gave up one game in the first set and was determined to finish his match quickly by delivering strong returns. Many unforced errors by Trhac gave Tumosa the opportunity to take yet another win, 6-1 and 6-4.
A few minutes later on court three, Ziomber followed up Tumosa’s win with a clean outing of his own against Robbertse. Ziomber similarly gave up just one point early in the first set. He wouldn’t let his opponent get much of a chance to come back as he took home NAU’s second point, 6-1, 6-2. Ziomber has been a rock for this team as he has now won five singles matches in a row, dating back to March 11 against Virginia Commonwealth University.
The momentum swung in NAU’s favor. On court four, Steele continued to come in clutch. Going head to head against Steinhauser, Steele fed off his recent success to take the win, 6-2 and 6-1. Steele improves his singles win streak to three games.
“Knowing it was a conference match, putting everything you got into it,” Steele said about how this match differed from Wednesday’s. “After that doubles point, we really knew we had to get it together and come back with a little bit more energy.”
Two hours into the match, NAU held a commanding 3-1 lead with the remaining matches showing much promise of a third consecutive win. It seemed inevitable that the Lumberjacks would reach the win condition of four points, it was just a matter of who would close the fastest.
That feat would be accomplished by Groves. In his match against Rendek, he jumped out to an impressive 5-0 lead in the first set. That seemed to light a fire under Rendek as the graduate student went off with four unanswered game wins to cut the lead. Groves regained his composure and closed out the set, 6-4. Groves, yet again, built an early lead in the second set and took the win for his team, 6-4 and 6-3.
Playing with house money now, the remaining two Lumberjacks could play with a sense of calmness, but they each brought intensity instead. The victorious Lumberjacks would cheer on for their remaining teammates to give them an edge.
“Having everyone there, whether we’re up 6-0 or down 6-0, we do the same thing,” Steele said. “We’re there cheering for everyone, so it doesn’t really matter the score.”
Intensity is the one word that can describe the match between NAU senior Eban Straker-Meads and Petrovic. Around halfway through the second set, Straker-Meads clearly wasn’t happy with his play. Down 3-1, he let out a frustrated cry after losing a point. However, with the help of his team, he made the comeback of the day to win in straight sets, 7-5 and 7-5.
Finally, the match that went an even further distance on court three between Buzonics and Castillo-Lopez came to a conclusion in similar fashion. Castillo-Lopez managed to take the lead in the first set, but Buzonics wouldn’t let the Bengals get any wins in singles. Buzonics won the first set, 7-6, and the second set played nearly exactly as the first, with Buzonics taking the sweep, 7-6 and 7-5.
Not only did NAU complete the singles sweep against Idaho State, they did so by winning all six matches in straight sets. Strong individual performances are what gave NAU a third consecutive win.
The Lumberjacks are now 3-6 and set to end their three-match homestead tomorrow at 10 a.m. against another Big Sky Conference foe in the Weber State Wildcats.