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Diversity is Key for Warrior Tennis – 2023 Tennis Preview

Randy Isbelle | Sports Information Intern

LEWISTON, Idaho – The LC State Women’s Tennis team may have one match under its belt, but the season starts in full on Friday when the women travel to Boise to play NCAA Division I opponent Montana State.
Kai Fong returns for his 35th season as the head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams. This season will bring a mix of veteran leadership, strong freshmen talent and a lot of diversity.
“The new players that are going to be on the team, the new recruits, they are pushing everybody,” Fong said. “They are making a break into the lineup. We are going to definitely be a deeper and stronger team.”
Lina Boylan, last year’s ITA West Region Rookie of the Year, returns to lead a women’s team that finished the 2022 season strong. Fighting through a difficult early season schedule filled with ranked opponents brought the team the experience it needed to win its final four contests.
Sophomore Beatriz Lambru started her season off with a No. 3 singles victory against UC Santa Cruz 6-4, 6-0. Sophomores Bonolo MolefeMaria Eduardo Santos da Silva and recently graduated senior Elisiva Latu also earned victory in singles action back in October. The lone senior on the team this spring Alexis Maison returned from an injury last season to finish the year 2-1 in doubles play.
“What is nice about the women’s team is we have a lot of experience,” Fong said.
On the men’s side, the 2021 LCSPY Freshman of the Year, Itaru Kikuchi, continued his strong career at LC with an 11-6 doubles record and 10-6 in singles while competing in the top two spots in both all season long.
“Itaru will be someone that will be a solid performer, he has done that for the past couple of years,” Fong said. “If Itaru continues to perform like he has been, we will have some very challenging and exciting matches.”
Like the women, the men battled against several NCAA Division I and ranked NAIA opponents throughout the 2022 season and finished with a 10-10 record.
The men have just two seniors on the squad and only three juniors, but do not confuse that with lack of talent or experience.  Austin Gomez, whose father Mario also played under Fong at LC in the 1990s, finished 5-3 in doubles and 2-0 in singles last year. Senior Andy Wu went undefeated in four singles matches last season and sophomore Beknazar Tursyngazy won all three of his singles matches.
What makes both teams so special is the wide range of diversity that Fong is able to bring to the team every year. While communication can be difficult at the beginning, the longtime coach said that the teams usually bond fast.
“It is always a process, I mean the common language we have is that we have tennis…They will bond that way, one of the keys is just to be on the court and working hard,” Fong said. “When you work hard as a team, when you struggle as a team, I think that is when you will grow, regardless of the diversity and regardless of what kind of background you come from.”
With just the freshmen alone the two teams tout players from Almaty, Kazakhstan (Yelena Kim and Dan Felker), Santa Cruz, Bolivia (Naiara Montero), Berlare, Belgium (Ines Steeman), Nakhodka, Russia (Maksim Matyrnyi), Quito, Ecuador (Juan Naranjo), Berlin, Germany (Malte Sommer) and Brisbane, Queensland (Declan Townsend). April Buckingham had a shorter distance to travel, coming from Kennewick High School.
“There is never a dull moment with them,” Fong added. “They bring in their food choices, they talk about their backgrounds, it always makes for an interesting conversation. It is nice to see that after a while they do bond over hard work and having a great work ethic.”
The season is already underway for the Warrior women’s team with a 5-4 victory against DIII UC Santa Cruz back on Oct. 7, 2022. Things kick off in full starting Friday as LC will travel to Boise, Idaho to take on Montana State, Boise State and Idaho State in consecutive days.
The home opening weekend for the women will be on Feb. 4 and 5 against Whitworth and College of Idaho, respectively. Feb 10-11 will see a double header with Montana and a home match with Whitman. A quick trip to Moscow to face Idaho on Feb. 19 will send LC into a near-month long break.
Action resumes on March 16 in Portland, Ore., against DIII Lewis & Clark College and March 17 in Forest Grove, Oreg. against Pacific. The Warriors host Idaho State on March 20 before traveling to Kentucky. LC takes on four different teams over four days in three different cities on the road trip from March 27-30.
“Right now, with both teams, we are not ranked in the NAIA,” Fong said. “We also are in a region where there is no one else around us to play except for established (DI) schools who have played us for years.”
April sees a meeting with Whitman on Apr. 8 at Walla Walla and home matches against Weber State (Apr. 15) and Highline CC (Apr. 21).
The Lewis-Clark State women joined the Red River conference this season and will participate in the Red River Conference Tournament in New Orleans on April 27-29. LC will finish off the regular season on May 5 with a home contest against Treasure Valley CC.
The Warrior men open the season on Saturday when they host Seattle University before traveling to Oregon the first week of February. LC will face Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., on Feb. 2 then travel to Newberg, Ore., to face George Fox and William Jessup (Calif.) on consecutive days. The men’s team returns home for a pair of matchups against Eastern Washington on Feb. 10 and Whitworth on Feb. 12.
The first long road trip takes the team to Lawrenceville, Ga., where Lewis-Clark State will face five opponents in a three-day span on Feb. 16-18. One home match with Whitman is slated on Feb. 25 before the Warriors go back on the road for the next seven scheduled events.
“It can be challenging because, with us being unranked, sometimes they don’t want to play us because they (don’t have) much to gain,” Fong added. “Thankfully there are a lot of coaches that we have had good relationships with so they will still play us if we fly out there and play them at their place especially.”
Lewis-Clark State plays a pair of matches against Montana on March 12 before meeting Idaho on March 18. The Warriors hit the road again, this time to Lexington, Ky., to play four opponents on consecutive days.
Four of the final five scheduled dates are at home for the men. DI Northern Arizona visits on April 1. A week later LC makes its final regular season road trip to Walla Walla, Wash. to face Whitman. Puget Sound (April 16), Bellevue CC (April 29) and Treasure Valley CC (May 5) round out the schedule.
The NAIA Tennis National Championships are in Mobile, Ala. this season on May 16-20.
“It has been very uplifting here. Every year I see different people, every year I see people that are coming back. I get new players coming in and to see different people wanting to be here,” Fong said. “There is something about this community, the whole works, the school systems, gosh, the people around here. I have had many opportunities to go different places, but something just kept me here.”


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