The University of Utah men’s tennis team will be in Cougar territory on Thursday when it takes on in-state rival BYU. Utah (6-1) and BYU (5-3) are both coming off three home wins against Denver, Montana State and Northern Arizona. This will be the first rivalry match between the two schools this season.
“It’s definitely a big game — biggest game for us in the season,” said sophomore Dan Little. “We know they are going to have a lot of fans … this is my second year and the first year which we had at home was unbelievable — all the seats were packed. It was a great atmosphere. Really intense.”
Last season when the rivals went head-to-head in the Eccles Tennis Center, BYU upset No. 69 Utah 5-2, handing the Utes their first loss of the season. In singles play, Jeremy Bourgeois took down Jamey Swiggart in three sets to clinch the win.
“I think anytime you play one of those heated matches you learn from it,” said head coach Roeland Brateanu. “I think back then 50 percent of our starters were out that day, so we had a lot of guys play and get experience and that helps us for this year.”
Having an “L” on their schedule next to the name of the team from down south was something that had not happened for two years. The outcome was an experience that has stung the Utes ever since. This time around Utah is seeking revenge as it hopes to end BYU’s undefeated home record (5-0).
“We definitely want to win,” Little said. “In my head, I don’t even want to just beat them, I feel like we have the team that can really dominate and causes them serious problems.”
The roughly 45-mile journey that winds around the point of the mountain and down a long stretch of freeway divides these two universities and gives the state of Utah two unique schools to root for. It also gives the athletes a match to look forward to. An important match they want to claim victory over. Thursday night the atmosphere may be different for the team in red and black, but Utah stands firm and confident in their ability to attack.
This week Utah has been focusing on getting healthier and keeping its energy level high and consistent so it does not waver during the match. They know how important that will be in an atmosphere that is going to be chaotic and fierce.
“Playing down there is difficult,” Brateanu said. “We play on four courts so the environment will be different, but it’ll be exciting. It’ll be a fun match.”
With a chance to redeem themselves from its fallout last season, Utah looks forward to taking the court Thursday night in what should be a showdown between the two programs. The competitiveness that drives this rivalry has Utah fired up and ready to get to work.
“I’m looking forward to a crowd, to be honest,” Little said. “I know it’s going to be the majority of BYU fans but that’s kind of fun too. I know they get very loud and vocal and I’m really looking forward to trying to get the win and kind of shutting them up like they did to us last year.”
The Deseret First Duel gets underway at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday night inside the Indoor Tennis Courts in Provo, Utah.