The Utah State men’s tennis team continues to climb to unprecedented heights for the program, as the latest ITA team rankings have the Aggies ranked as the 42nd best team in the nation, re-breaking the mark for highest ranking in team history that was set with last week’s rankings.
The Aggies will again take their national ranking into battle this weekend while also opening their defense of their 2016 Mountain West Conference Regular Season title by facing San Diego State on Saturday.
When asked earlier in the season about his team possibly competing for the Mountain West title, head coach James Wilson lacked no confidence. “I certainly believe that we have a team that’s capable of winning the Mountain West,” Wilson said. “We’re just going to take it one step at a time. I definitely feel like we have a team that could compete for it. We’ll just see what happens.”
The opportunity certainly appears attainable. At 12-7, the Aggies post the best overall record in the Mountain West, despite having played four teams this season currently ranked in the top 20 in the country. Utah State is also the only MW school to be ranked in the top 50 at any point this season.
Utah State also boasts the most MW Player of the Week awards among any team in the conference. Junior Jaime Barajas, also the returning MW Player of the Year, along with senior Jack Swindells and sophomore Samuel Serrano have all received the honorary recognition so far this season. Serrano and Barajas have both won MW Player of the Week twice and Swindells once for a total of five. No other team in the conference has more than two.
This Saturday’s match against San Diego State gives the team an excellent opportunity to pick up where last season’s conference play left off, while also exacting an amount of revenge. Last year’s Aggie squad took the regular season title with a 7-1 record. That one loss? On the road to this very San Diego State team.
This year, however, the Aggies will enjoy the home court advantage. That advantage has been huge in recent years. The Aggies are undefeated at home this season and have lost only twice in the past three years when playing within the friendly confines of Cache Valley. Sophomore Jonas Meier elaborated on the home crowd’s significance earlier this season after winning a third set to clinch a match at home versus BYU.
“They did like 90% of the work,” Maier said. “Without them I don’t know how it would have been … I had no doubt that I wouldn’t lose because I knew I had my team and I had the crowd behind me.”
The challenge for Utah State this year, however, will be their conference road schedule, as the Aggies will face second and third place teams from last season, Boise State and UNLV respectively, away from Logan. The Aggies gained their first victory over Boise State since 1986 last year, with Barajas clinching the match at home with a come-from-behind victory in the third set to give the Aggies the win, 4-3. Against UNLV, the Aggies were able to clinch a share of the regular season conference title with a 4-2 win before winning the outright title one week later.
The Aggies will be favored to take home the MW crown again this year, a by-product of their national ranking. The first step in achieving that goal will be a victory on Saturday against last season’s fourth-place finisher in the conference. Utah State takes on San Diego State at either the Sports Academy or on the outdoor courts on USU campus, dependent on weather. The match will begin at 1:30 pm.