Cougars Ready to Defend MWC Title

PROVO -- The No. 69 BYU men?s tennis team begins Mountain West Conference tournament play Friday in Las Vegas as the No. 2 seed. The champion of the six-team tournament will automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament.

The Cougars (13-8, 4-1) will face the winner of the Air Force/New Mexico match, which will take place Thursday. BYU won matches against both of those teams during the regular season.

?I still don?t think we are playing our best tennis yet,? BYU head coach Jim Osborne said. ?We?re getting better all the time and I guess it?s good that we will be playing our best at the right time.?

The Cougars finished the season by winning six of their last seven matches, with their only loss coming in their final match against No. 1 seed San Diego State. The Aztecs knocked off BYU twice during the season, but the Cougars hope to get revenge during the MWC Tournament.

?We won it last year and I think we have an even better team this season,? Osborne said.

Despite being in a conference with four ranked teams, the Cougars managed to grab the No. 2 seed. No. 28 San Diego State, No. 53 UNLV and No. 65 New Mexico all have stayed in the top-75 nationally for much of the year.

BYU is led by the No. 10 doubles tandem of Carlos Lozano and Gert Vilms. The pair won six of its last seven matches, and finished the dual meet season with an impressive record of 14-5.

The two players have shared duties at the top of the singles lineup and Vilms has not lost a match when playing at the No. 2 position. Both players have sat due to injury at different points in the season, but they should be healthy and ready for action in Las Vegas.

The rest of BYU?s singles and doubles lineup has been equally impressive this season. Senior Nic Losee has been on a tear of late, winning 14 of his last 16 matches, including his last six. Losee spent the majority of the season playing the three or four spot.

Another bright spot for the Cougars has been the play of sophomore Erik Nyman. The 2001 MWC Newcomer of the Year won 12 of his last 15 singles matches, giving the Cougars a powerful one-two punch in the middle of the lineup.

Losee and Nyman play together in doubles and the team has been just as succesful. The pair finished the dual match season with a record of 14-7.

Senior Jeff Harbach and junior Jeff Olsen have stepped up their play, particularly in singles.

?I?ve been extremely happy with the bottom part of our lineup,? Osborne said.

Harbach and Olsen teamed up in doubles play to post a 14-5 regional record this year, and each picked up several important points at the No. 5 and 6 positions.

The Cougars have more on their minds than just defending their 2001 MWC title. Their second-straight championship would guarantee them a spot in the NCAA tournament, while coming up short would place them on the bubble for qualifying.

?I told the guys that we were probably going to have to win it to get in,? Osborne said. ?It?s going to be a dogfight down there.?

BYU qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2001 and nearly upset California in the first round.

To follow all the action from the MWC Tournament, the recaps and photos from each match will be posted on the internet at themwc.fansonly.com/sports/m-tennis/stats/mtennis-today-mwc.html