Experience should help UH at NCAAs


POSTED: Thursday, May 07, 2009

They readied their work papers and packed their briefcases ... or their racket cases, at least.

A second straight trip to the NCAA tournament is now just business for the Hawaii men's tennis team.

The rapidly maturing Warriors are focused on scoring an opening-round upset when they take the courts against No. 20 Oklahoma State tomorrow at UCLA's Los Angeles Tennis Center. Opening serve is at 7 a.m. Hawaii time.

Expect none of the wide-eyed stares that accompanied a drubbing by regional host Pepperdine in last year's appearance, the program's first in the NCAA's 64-team tourney.

“;I think it's better that we have been there,”; said senior Sascha Heinemann.

“;We know what it is like, we know that people are probably not going to cheer for us. I think it's just helpful that we've been in that situation before.

“;I think this year everybody should be prepared for it and ready to play.”;

The team's other senior, Jeff Fitch, agreed.

“;If we think of it any other way (than a normal match) it will affect us,”; he said. “;We just gotta go out and take care of our business. It's not extra pressure or anything. We were there last year. It's pretty much the same team. We're pretty confident, just gotta turn it on at the right time.”;

UH (10-9) flew out on Tuesday, leaving the 49th-ranked Warriors two solid days to prepare for the Big 12 Conference Cowboys (14-7). It's the third trip to L.A. this season for the now two-time Western Athletic Conference champions; UH has already flown in to face UCLA (in March) and USC (in April).

UCLA faces Southern Illinois on the other side of the regional bracket. If the Warriors get past the Cowboys, they'll face the winner of that match on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Confidence is high that such a goal is attainable. Heinemann is riding a 12-match winning streak at the No. 4 court, freshman Leo Rosenberg has held his own at the 3-spot and Dennis Lajola and Andy Weber remain as dangerous as ever at the 1 and 2.

And the Warriors couldn't have picked a better time to discover their doubles mojo. Coach John Nelson reunited Lajola and Fitch at the top doubles court and paired up Heinemann and Rosenberg (who had never played together prior to the WAC tournament) at No. 2. UH couldn't buy a doubles victory for most of the year, but the moves paid dividends in WAC tourney wins over Fresno State and top-seeded Boise State.

The key, though, could be if Lajola can get past All-American Oleksandr Nedovyesov at the No. 1 court. It would be a huge momentum swing for the Warriors; Nedovyesov is No. 2 in the nation and spent some time as the NCAA's top-ranked player.

Lajola has come up with some big victories this year, but none was bigger than his triumph over USC's Robert Farah, another player ranked No. 1 at one point.

“;Sometimes the rankings do kind of bother people. It's such a big match for anyone playing someone in the top 10,”; Lajola said. “;This time I'm actually more ready. I'll just play anyone else on the court. That's what's going to help me — being in my own domain and just being focused on what I can control and not worry about the outcome or if he's 2 in the country.”;

Nelson maintained a loose vibe at the team's practice a day before their departure. Music blared at the UH Tennis Complex as players exchanged serves and volleys. The coach was content to largely let them do their own thing at this late stage of the season. Make no mistake, though — the athletes were there to work.

“;The first time a lot of people go to nationals, they make a big deal out of it, take in too much,”; Nelson said. “;And if you're used to being there, it's just the same old thing and you go out and play tennis. The guys are excited about it, achieved a goal, but we've done that (WAC win) before, so now let's go for it.”;