Stevens: Canada's Lobo Women Open Mountain West Play
March 21, 2012
Saturday: 2 p.m., Boise State at New Mexico
Sunday: 2 p.m., Air Force at New Mexico
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By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It's not that what Roy Canada's Lobos have done up to this point on the tennis court doesn't matter. It does. But what they do Saturday and Sunday at the Linda Estes Tennis Center matters more.
The Lobo women know this. They are excited.
"These matches count for something more," said freshman Susanna Kuuttila, "The whole atmosphere is changing. You can feel it. Everyone is more intense and more excited about playing their matches."
The change is simple enough to explain. It's Mountain West time. Boise State visits the Lobos at 2 p.m. on Saturday and the red-hot Air Force Falcons come calling at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
"We always try to perform our best whether it's conference on not," said Lobo sophomore Michaela Bezdickova, who has locked down Canada's No. 1 spot. "But conference games are more important, something special, and you want to succeed more when matches mean more."
One of the goals for this year's Lobo team is to climb up that Mountain West ladder. The Lobos finished 1-7 in league play in 2011 just ahead of Colorado State, which got even by knocking the Lobos out of the Mountain tourney.
That climb up the ladder won't be easy. The conference has four teams ranked in the Top 75: TCU (32), UNLV (37), San Diego State (48) and Wyoming (63). After that, there is a lot of parity among the teams wanted to work their way into the title chase.
"I think TCU and UNLV stand out and then you have to say San Diego State and Wyoming are on their tails," said Canada. "The rest of us appear to be bunched up, but Air Force is red hot right now."
The Lobos aren't throwing the towel in when it comes to eyeing the 2012 Mountain crown. But they know a climb that high on the Mountain won't come easy.
"We'd have to really be playing our best tennis every match," said Kuuttila. "But it's possible. We definitely want to be higher than last year."
If you go simply by rankings, the Lobos, Boise State, Air Force and Colorado State are battling for that No. 5 spot behind TCU, UNLV, SDSU and Wyoming. But the teams in the Mountain West have yet to serve a tennis ball at each other.
That changes for the Lobos on Saturday.
"These are key matches for us," said Canada. "These are our first two matches of the conference and it's, `How do you start?' Our confidence is high and we play to keep the momentum going and ride it into the weekend.
"The girls are sensing the importance of conference and that brings excitement. They understand the intensity of conference matches. Conference is your time to prove yourself. I think we are ready."
The Lobos are riding a two-match winning streak heading at Boise State. The Broncos (6-7) are coming off a 5-2 loss to Washington State.
Boise State is paced by Sonia Klamczynska, who has a 6-4 mark playing out of the No. 1 and No. 2 spots. Marlena Pietzuch is 7-1 in the No. 2 hole. Those two Broncos also form Boise State's top doubles team. Pietzuch was the Mountain's Player of The Week for Feb. 7-14.
Boise State was 17-8 last year and 5-1 in the Western Athletic Conference. Klamczynska is the only senior on a young squad. The Broncos are 6-1 when they start a match winning the doubles' point. Against Washington State, Bronco Morgan Basil produced the only singles' win, playing in the No. 5 position.
Canada usually has Bezdickova in the No. 1 spot and Kuuttila as No. 2. The other Lobos who have made the top five of late are Kristin Eggleston, Maria Sablina, Nikolina Grbac, Katie Wookey, and Michaela Oldani.
"I'm playing well," said Bezdickova. "I'm playing better than I did last year. I am more comfortable on the court and have more experience. I hope to have good results and help my team succeed."
The battles at the No. 1 and No. 2 spots vs. Boise should be hotly contested matches providing top-notch tennis. The Lobos will have the home-court edge on Saturday, but if you compare scores vs. common opponents, the Broncos have a slight edge.
Air Force's gaudy 14-3 record includes a six-game win streak the Falcons take into a Saturday match at ranked TCU. In that streak, Air Force's closest game was 5-2 and there were three 7-0 wins.
But the Falcons lost to Colorado and Denver and beat UTEP --- as did the Lobos. One score that is scary is Air Force's 6-1 win over Northern Arizona, a team the Lobos lost to 6-1. Depending on what happens at TCU, the Falcons should come to Albuquerque riding a lot of confidence, too.
"We are evenly matched with these two teams. The matches are up for grabs," said Canada. "We hope playing at home will give us an edge. It always helps to start conference with a couple of wins."
Said Bezdickova: "This is the most important part of our season. We are looking forward to the matches. We will try our best."