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Lobos Drop Opener 6-1 to Utah

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jan Pucalka picked up a straight set win in singles, but it wasn’t enough as a veteran Utah Utes squad spoiled the season opener, and the debut of New Mexico head coach Chris Russell, with a 6-1 win in front of a big crowd of 395 at McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium.

Pucalka’s win gave UNM its only point of the match, and it came at No. 5 singles as he was nrealy flawless.  He breezed through his opening set, setting the tone early with a quick break to jump ahead of Bruno Krenn.  He would end up winning the opening set 6-0.  In the second, Pucalka and Kerr traded serves early, but a break in the eighth game gave Pucalka the upper hand, and he served out the win.  The win was the first collegiate win for Pucalka, who played in only one match in the fall in singles.

That win was UNM’s only one of the match, although the Lobos, with six newcomers in the lineup, fought hard against a Utah team already in its fourth match of the year.  The Utes took doubles with a sweep of Nos. 3 and 1.  At No. 3 doubles, Jayson Blando and Mathias Gavelin took a 6-2 win over Aram Noroozian and Daniil Kakhniuk.  The Lobo pairing of Noroozian and Kakhniuk put UNM’s two newest players together on the court for their collegiate debuts as UNM played six freshmen in the lineup.  Both Noroozian and Kakhniuk weren’t in school at UNM just two weeks ago when Utah was already opening its season.

The other two doubles matches were both sitting at 4-4, and UNM had a chance to make it 1-1 at No. 2 doubles, but up 5-4, UNM’s pairing of Nicolas Prieto and Arda Azkara had to battle back from 40-15.  They got the first when Prieto dropped a shot past Bruno Caula and Francisco Bathias, and then Azkara and Prieto combined on a 1-2 volley punch to set up a set point, but Utah staved it off.  That went for naught as on court 1, Francisco Capalbo and Geronimo Espin took the final two games for a 6-4 win, giving the opening point to Utah.

Pucalk’a s point made it 1-1, but Utah took four straight set wins in singles to clinch the match.  The drama lay at No. 6 where a large crowd gathered to watch Georgio Samaha of Albuquerque bounce back at No. 6 singles from a 6-3 loss in the opening set to win his second 6-1.  That forced a winner-take-all third with Gavelin, but Samaha found himself down 5-1.  He then faced and won to set points to push it to 5-2, and down 40-15, he fought off another before he sliced one just into the top of the net to end the match.

The Lobos now get to regroup and head on the road for a Friday night matchup with Gonzaga.  First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m. Mountain Time.

NOTES:  All nine players on the team saw action in the match … of UNM’s three doubles pairings, only Maggs and Pucalka had played together in the fall, going 1-1.

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