History in the making: Montana men’s tennis team making ‘phenomenal’ run in 2022 season | UM Grizzlies

MISSOULA – The goal is to make history.

The pieces are in place.

Some would argue the Montana men’s tennis team has already made history, breaking into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Top 75 for the first time this year and staying there for seven weeks. But if you’re asking coach Jason Brown and his senior-laden squad, the season won’t be complete until the Grizzlies win the Big Sky Conference tourney and clinch an NCAA berth for only the second time in the program’s existence.

“It would be the dream,” said senior Oisin Shaffrey, an Irishman whose singles win at No. 2 helped catapult Montana into a tie for first in the league standings with a 5-2 home win over Sacramento State on Tuesday.

“It’s all we’ve worked for these last three and a half years with Coach Jason (Brown) and all my lads, all the group of lads we came in with and all the lads younger. It would be a fairy tale send-off to my tennis career in life, a magical thing. Fingers crossed and hopefully we get it done. “

Every match counts the same in college tennis, so every dual meet victory on the NCAA Division I level requires depth of talent. Yet there’s no denying the exceptional play of seniors Ed Pudney and Shaffrey has set the tone for the breakthrough 2022 Grizzlies.

Pudney earned the biggest win of his college career Tuesday at No. 1 singles. The Englishman was pitted against Mark Keki in a clash of arguably the two best players in the Big Sky.

Pudney showed rare poise under pressure in emerging with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7) victory, boosting his overall singles mark to 11-2 this school year. It marked the first league singles loss of the season for the reigning Big Sky Player of the Week Keki, a sophomore from Hungary.

“I think that might be my first college match where I’ve saved so many match points to win the match,” said Pudney, who has faced the match point six times. “To do it in that fashion, 7-6 in the third, 9-7, is definitely my biggest match.

“I think if I played that match my first year, I don’t think I’d win. But winning some good ones and losing some tough ones over the years, the experience definitely helped get me through that match today.”

Two things you notice in watching the Grizzlies are they genuinely care about one another and they share the calm demeanor of their cerebral head coach. It certainly seemed to help when the chips were down Tuesday. Montana lost the doubles point and would have trailed 3-2 with two singles matches remaining if not for Pudney’s dramatic victory.

‘We really talk about,’ Does it help you win the next point? If it doesn’t, you have to let it go. You’re going to be frustrated, upset. There’s going to be things not going your way, ‘ “Brown said. ‘We try to take that (Rafael) Nadal’s approach of hit the towel, and,’ I’m going to play the next point like nothing happened before, good or bad. ‘

“They’ve taken it to heart. There’s been ups and downs with it, but at this point they’re on cruise control. It’s phenomenal.”

Tuesday’s win was critical for the Grizzlies for two reasons: It was their last chance to make hay at home and it gives them confidence heading into their final two league duals at Idaho Saturday and at co-league-leading Montana State on April 23.

“This Sac State team just beat Idaho and Idaho just beat Montana State,” Brown noted. “The parity … honestly these matches are coin flips. I’m buckled in for the final three weeks of the season. It’s going to be exciting.”

Joining Pudney and Shaffrey on the list of Tuesday singles winners for the Grizzlies – who own the best overall dual record in the Big Sky at 13-2 – were Lawrence Sciglitano at No. 3, Moritz Stoeger at No. 5 and Pontus Hallgren at No. 6.

“We knew Sac State had come in playing pretty well,” Pudney said of a Hornets team that boasted a string of four straight dual wins heading into Missoula.

“We still felt we could get them. This really gives us momentum going into our last two (regular-season) matches. It puts us in a great spot to go down to Idaho and give them a good match and then finish up beating the Cats, which would be great. Hopefully the best is yet to come. “

From there it’s on to Phoenix for the Big Sky tourney on April 28. Whether the Griz win or lose, you can count on the fact they’ll stick together.

“We’ve definitely had our best spring since I’ve been here, and all the lads are playing really well,” Shaffrey said. “We’ve had some really good recruits coming in. We had a Boise State recruit (Sciglitano) and a freshman from Denmark (Gustav Theilgaard) who is playing really well.

“Then our boy Ed (Pudney), he’s been rock-solid up top. We gel well as a team. We’re the best mates and I think that’s what gets us over these close matches. We train six days a week on the court , then we’re in the gym three or four days a week. We’re always together, so it’s important to have a good team culture. We’re like a family. It absolutely helps us. “


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