NEWBERG, Ore. – For fans of the George Fox University men’s tennis team who can get away, the Bruins face their stiffest challenge of the season when they host NCAA Division I powerhouse Radford University in a match on Monday, Mar. 5, at the Club Green Meadows’ indoor courts in Vancouver, Wash., starting at 10:00 a.m.
The match was originally scheduled for the GFU campus courts, but with weather forecasts of 45 degrees and a 90 percent change of rain on Monday, George Fox coach Neal Ninteman decided to move the contest to safer havens. The match was also moved ahead one hour from an 11:00 a.m. scheduled start in order to allow the visiting Highlanders time to get to a 5:00 p.m. match later that afternoon at the University of Oregon in Eugene.
“I’m not sure we have ever played anyone of this caliber before,” said Ninteman in discussing the match. “While we have no illusions about the results, our young men are excited about the challenge of taking on a top-notch Division I program and seeing how competitive they can be. We know they are planning to rest their top three for the Oregon match, but they are strong and deep and definitely a contender for NCAA honors.”
To back up Ninteman’s statement, the Highlanders, who are 6-1 and on a six-game winning streak, are ranked No. 71 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division I ratings and have been tabbed as the favorite to win the Big South Conference men’s championship this spring. Winners of four of the last five Big South Tournament titles, Radford posted a school-record 22 victories last season before falling to the No. 3-ranked University of Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Radford has been nationally-ranked for five consecutive years.
“Radford is sort of the ‘end of the gauntlet’, we call it, for the start of our season,” laughed Ninteman. While the Bruins’ overall early record is only 4-4, two of their losses were to D-I opponents California-Davis and Portland State, and the other two were to nationally-ranked D-III foes California-Santa Cruz and Whitman.
The Bruins are 3-1 and in third place in the early stages of Northwest Conference play, and are coming off what Ninteman calls “one of the most exciting weekends of tennis I have been associated with, especially on Saturday.”
George Fox defeated Puget Sound 8-1 on Friday and Pacific Lutheran 5-4 on Saturday, both on the road. In the PLU match, the Bruins dropped all three of the preliminary doubles matches and the No. 1 singles, but rallied to win the last five singles to pull out a stunning victory over the Lutes.
“Against UPS, we were rolling and played some of the best tennis we have ever played, but that PLU match was amazing,” declared Ninteman. “I don’t know if we’ve ever lost the first three doubles and still come back to win; it just doesn’t happen that often. The intensity and the atmosphere surrounding our comeback was about the most exciting tennis match I’ve ever been around.”
The Bruins lost extremely close matches at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles to the Lutes, and No. 1 player Preston Mann went down to defeat as well, leaving it up to the rest of the lineup, which responded in major fashion. The Bruins won easily at No. 4 and No. 6 singles, but had to win three-set thrillers at No. 2 and No. 3, leaving freshman David Munoz at No. 5 as the last Bruin playing with the match knotted at 4-4.
“Munoz was the last one on the court for us, with everyone else on both teams watching and cheering, and he played with ice water in his veins to pull it out for us,” noted Ninteman. “I think that match demonstrated the grit and character of all of our players. For them to maintain their composure and have the wherewithal to take care of business was a proud moment for us. And as young as we are, with no seniors, this team is really building something for the future.”
Following the Radford match, the Bruins will return to conference play, hosting Whitworth on Friday at 2:00 p.m. and Whitman on Saturday at 10:00 a.m.