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Washington head men’s tennis coach Matt Anger grew up in the Bay Area as a fan of the San Francisco 49ers. But since taking over the UW program 18 years ago, he’s been keeping tabs on the division-rival Seahawks, especially of late, as they have turned into one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
But what exactly do the NFL playoffs have to do with the UW as the Huskies kick off their season Saturday against Gonzaga at 5 p.m. at Nordstrom Tennis Center?
“A lot of people talk about how you don’t know how good [the Seahawks] are as a team, but people don’t want to play against them,” Anger said. “I would put ourselves in that category.”
It’s not like the No. 25 Huskies have a rookie who is going to jump straight into the starting lineup and take the league by storm, a la Seattle’s Russell Wilson. It’s actually the opposite: The UW has a veteran-laden lineup that Anger expects to make a splash in the postseason.
Last season, the UW had four freshmen in its starting lineup: Nicholas Kamisar, Emmett Egger, Viktor Farkas, and Jeff Hawke. When the season opened, only two Huskies had started more than five dual matches in singles.
Now the Huskies are another year older and another year wiser.
“We’ve all been through the challenges and the good stuff,” Kamisar said. “Having that experience, we know what to expect in pretty much every situation. That’s definitely going to be key.”
The Huskies brought back their entire singles lineup from last year and lost only two seniors. With a deep and experienced team, the Huskies are eyeing the school’s 19th consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
The UW’s singles lineup, headed by senior Kyle McMorrow, was so strong last season that the Huskies never lost a match when leading after the doubles point, maintaining a perfect 12-0. The depth of the UW’s singles lineup was especially handy when the Huskies lost the doubles point in the first round of the NCAA tournament against North Carolina State, and had to stage a comeback to knock out the Wolfpack, winning four straight singles matches.
Prior to meeting the Huskies, the Wolfpack hadn’t lost a match after winning the doubles point.
It wasn’t singles that was the problem for the Huskies last year. It was doubles. The UW was 12-14 in the critical doubles point last season, including a string of six matches in a row, during which it lost the first point of the match.
But that was last year.
The Huskies showed drastic improvement in the fall in their doubles play, with multiple quarterfinal berths and even a doubles title. Hawke and Farkas won the doubles crown in the final tournament before the dual season, the Nordstrom Open, and ended the UW’s fall season on a high note.
Things weren’t all perfect, though. Before finishing in a promising fashion at the Nordstrom Open, the Huskies started the fall season with inconsistent singles play in both the ITA Regionals and the PNW Intercollegiates.
But the calendar has flipped to a new season, and the Huskies are ready to start anew.
“We definitely have things to improve on,” Kamisar said. “The important part of the fall is that we learned a lot from the mistakes that some of us made, and we’re really ready to improve for the winter and the spring.”
The Huskies are 12-0 all-time against Gonzaga. After playing the Bulldogs, they’ll embark on a string of three straight ranked opponents, beginning with a trip to No. 17 Tulsa on Jan. 18.