No easing into Pac-12 play for No. 22 Huskies

UW junior Kyle McMorrow will lead the Huskies in a pair of matchups against top-five foes this weekend in California. Photo by Sang Cho

It’s three months into the dual season, and the No. 22 Washington men’s tennis team is still alive.

The Huskies have traversed a daunting nonconference schedule, knocking off ranked opponent after ranked opponent and, despite a few bumps and bruises along the way, have come away from their first 15 matches safe and sound.

But the Pac-12 is a whole different animal.

This weekend, the Huskies (12-3) open conference play with the toughest tests the Pac-12 has to offer. First up is No. 1 USC (19-0) today at 1:30 p.m., quickly followed by No. 5 UCLA (14-2) tomorrow at 1 p.m. Both matches are scheduled to be played outdoors in Bill Quillian Tennis Stadium, but due to inclement weather are expected to be moved indoors to Nordstrom Tennis Center. While back-to-back matches against top-five opponents are surely a tall order, the UW has three months’ worth of tests to review in order to get ready for their first Pac-12 weekend.

“The No. 1 thing [we’ve learned from nonconference play] is that when you’re trying to beat top teams, there’s not a lot of margin for error,” head coach Matt Anger said. “There’s no time to question yourself; you’ve got to be ready from the beginning; you’ve got to minimize mistakes and you’ve got to manage momentum, both good and bad.”

Slow starts and inconsistencies have plagued the Huskies in their previous matchups with the nation’s elite teams and have left them still searching for their first top-10 win. In January, then-No. 10 Duke — currently ranked No. 6 — handed the Huskies their first loss of the season in the qualifying rounds for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championships, 4-0, in a match that ended before the Huskies could secure a point. In their other top-10 test of the season thus far, the Huskies were blanked 7-0 by then-No. 8 Pepperdine, with four of the singles matches coming down to three sets.

But, like always, the Huskies are just trying to improve.

“Mentally, we are prepared, and physically, we have the talent to beat these guys, but for some reason, I feel like as soon as we lose our first set and we go down a break in the second set, some of the guys don’t believe in themselves,” junior Marton Bots said. “If we can truly believe we can adjust and beat these guys then I think we will succeed.”

To get by the L.A. schools, though, the Huskies are going to need a lot more than confidence; they’ll need near perfection. Headlined by No. 2 player in the nation Steve Johnson, the Trojans boast five ranked players, three doubles pairs in the top 20, and a 39-match winning streak. Not to be outdone, the Bruins have four ranked players and the No. 38 doubles tandem in the nation with Adrien Puget and Nick Meister.

No matter the task though, the Huskies aren’t backing down from challenge.

“It’s going to take more of the same determined effort that we’ve been talking about,” Anger said of the weekend’s tough matches. “Our goal isn’t just getting on the scoreboard; the whole competition, the format of the contest, is to get four on the board, so that’s what we’re always going for.”

Reach reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @thucnhi21.

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