2014 Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year, Alan Dils.
First of all, thank you all so much for your support this year. We’re all so glad you jumped on board in August on our “Road to Fresno State” for the Mountain West Conference Championships. It was a great ride. There were some major highs, and a few lows, but like always the guys played their best at the end to once again put the Lobos in contention for their 12th conference title.
The road to Fresno began with a new tournament in January. The Ned and Tina Jacobs Invitational. The Lobos started the year hot winning that tournament beating 2014 NCAA participant and three-time Southland Conference Champions Texas A&M Corpus Christi twice in the event. The very next match we pushed our record to 7-0 by beating another 2014 NCAA participant and Big West Champions Cal Poly.
From there we lost two very close home matches, both 4-3 to Utah and two-time defending Mountain West Conference Champion (who are #25 in the ITA Rankings) Boise State.
#1 Doubles pair, James Hignett (left) and Sam Iftikhar vs Boise State in the MWC Finals.
There were some heartbreaking losses along the way, as well as some gratifying wins (beating Fresno State on the road 4-3 when seemingly everything was working against us comes to mind)!
Heading into the conference tournament your Lobos were 18-7 and earned the #2 seed behind Boise State. The previous two years New Mexico came up one match short losing to Boise State in the finals in 2012 4-0 and 2013 4-3 and 7-6 in the third last match on.
UNM had three players receive All-Conference awards the night before the tournament got underway. The Lobos were led by Junior, Sam Iftikhar (who played a Davis Cup Tie for Pakistan in late early April) who made the All-MWC squad in both singles in doubles playing primarily in the #1 doubles spot and exclusively at #1 singles. Also earning All-MWC awards were Junior, James Hignett for doubles, and MWC Freshman of the Year, Hayden Sabatka! Sabatka, from Denver, Colorado became the fourth Lobo to earn MWC FOY honors behind former Lobos, Max Jones, Johnny Parkes, and Jadon Phillips.
MWC Freshman of the Year, Hayden Sabatka unleashes a forehand against Boise State’s Nathan Sereke.
UNM kicked off the 2014 tournament with familiar foe and conference travel partner Air Force. Air Force play very solid doubles, and attack, attack, attack. We have the utmost respect for their players, coaches, and program overall. These guys will grow to be some of the true leaders to come for our great country.
Needless to say we were prepared for a battle. It was neck and neck in doubles until finally we started to pull away. In the end our guys went for it when it counted and we racked up wins at #3 and #1 doubles.
Your Lobos congratulating one another after beating AFA to advance to the MWC semi-final round vs San Diego State.
Moving to singles, Iftikhar picked up a quick win at #1 singles, followed by doubles partner Hignett at #5 to set the table for #4 singles and Sophomore, Andy Van Der Vyver. VDV came through in straight sets to give UNM a 4-0 win over AFA and a date for the third year in a row with San Diego State in the Semi-Finals.
With a ton of rain the day before, the women’s tournament was backed up a bit. The UNM women won a quarterfinal match win Nevada then came through against SDSU to book a spot in the finals of the women’s championship. A huge congratulations to coach Erica and coach Kelcy for a great season and a job well done. It was great seeing them come through as well!
Because of the rain, we didn’t get on for our 2pm match time until after 4:30pm. We battled for 4hrs and 10mins against a very talented SDSU team. It was our third year in a row meeting these guys in the semis and for the third year in a row we came through. This time in DRAMATIC fashion.
UNM took the doubles point and raced to wins at #5 with Hignett winning 6-2, 6-0 and #3 with Freshman Rodolfo Jauregui (who won 30 singles matches this season) winning 6-2, 6-1. In between match wins for the Lobos though, SDSU picked up straight set wins on courts two, four, and six. With the match tied at 3-3 the spotlight fell on court #1 featuring player of the year candidates Iftikhar and Thorsten Bertch. SDSU took the first set 6-2, but Iftikhar broke at 4-4 to serve for the second set. SDSU hung tough and broke right back leveling the second set once again.
The match went to a second set tie breaker which saw Iftikhar down 6-5. This meant the match, and the season was on the line. Up to that point Sam had not hit a single penetrating shot from his backhand wing. This was part of the problem as to why he found himself down match point. Somehow he summoned the guts to go for an on the run, down the line, half desperation, half in the zone, backhand winner to level the tie breaker at 6-6. This broke Thorsten both in mind and body.
Mentally it can be debilitating to see the end of the tunnel, to have it be so close, then have it vanish away. SDSU was a backhand down the line away from heading to their first conference finals since 2010 where they fell to TCU. The very next point the two exchanged a very long rally where eventually UNM won the point. Bertch fell after the point and succumbed to cramps. His coach came out and started to stretch him where he received a time violation warning, his second warning to that point (which annoyed me because it should have been a point penalty right then and there).
The fellas going bonkers as Sam Iftikhar clinches the win over San Diego State in the MWC semi-finals.
SDSU somehow summoned the strength to keep fighting as well and the two warriors once again found themselves tied 9-9 and locked in another epic rally. Once again Sammy won the point which set up set point, but at the end of the 9-9 point Bertch fell again and cramped. The SDSU trainer came out and started to stretch the effected area. This is an automatic point penalty, however that was not called as he once again went over the allotted 20 seconds in between points. That violation was called and a point penalty was issued. This gave Sam the set 11-9 and set up a third set for all the marbles.
Because of Bertch’s physical condition Sam got off to a 3-0 lead, but SDSU would not fold…and we knew that. SDSU broke back at 2-4 in the third to get the match back on serve at 3-4. Sam dug deep though, broke and held to love pulling the match and the team match out, lifting the Lobos to a 4-3 win over SDSU. It was an awesome match that could have gone either way. As a coaching staff we were so proud to be a part of such a wonderful team effort.
“There’s only one Sammy Iftikhar!” The team chanting in victory after the win by Iftikhar over SDSU.
We got out of there very late at night, got a bite to eat, and completely wired we all tried to get some sleep. The morning would bring two Lobo teams battling for the MWC Championship!
The finals against Boise State was more anti-climactic as I had hoped for. We all really thought it was our year. We tried to imagine ourselves holding that trophy, but in the end, Boise State, a top 25 team and 27-4 on the year were just too tough for us. They won the doubles point with wins at #2 and #3 and took control from the beginning of singles on three courts and never really let us back into the match.
It’s a credit to their staff, and their players. They were top 25, they knew they would be in the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome of the match. That said, they could free swing and play loose and relaxed. We, on the other hand, knowing we had to win to get in were a bit tight to start the match and proved lethal.
I give our guys a ton of credit though, bouncing back after two tough losses in conference finals the last couple years to once again get back there to give themselves a chance to win it. That’s all we can do again. Dust ourselves off, get back to work, and try and go one further next year. Next year with the schedule we’ve put together we hope to enter the MWC tournament ranked inside the top 35 to ensure a spot in the NCAA tournament!
Finally, a nice treat today on Head Coach, Alan Dils’ birthday, he was named the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year for the fifth time in his illustrious career! Congrats to Alan and the guys for helping UNM bring home that award!
Thanks again so much everyone, please stay tuned as this summer we will stay in touch about camps, the new facility, our 2014 signing class, more “Where Are They Now” features, and much much more!
A special thanks to the staff at the Linda Estes Tennis Center, including club Director and my father, Bob Scott; Eric Turner, Lindsay Stansifer, and the rest of the LETC crew for all their support, racquet stringing, and court preparation! You guys are the best!!!
We’re so thankful to be a part of such a wonderful tennis community!
As Always GO LOBOS!!!!!!