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NEITHER UTAH NOR BYU FAVORED TO WIN CROWN

The men's teams from the University of Utah and BYU will go into this year's WAC tennis finals as spoilers. Neither is expected to win, but either one could. Hit a few corners at the right time and the title could come home with one of the two schools.

When the tournament opens Thursday in Albuquerque, N.M., the home team, the University of New Mexico, will step in as the favorite, followed by Fresno State. The Lobos are currently ranked No. 6 in the country.Utah is expected to get the No. 3 nod, UTEP No. 4, BYU No. 5, San Diego No. 6, Air Force No. 7, Hawaii No. 8 and Colorado State No. 9.

It is a fact that Utah lost to both New Mexico and Fresno. It's also a fact that Utah was never a whole team when it played the powers. Utah's No. 1 player, Brian Conner, a junior who played for Rowland Hall-St. Marks, has been troubled by a bad back all season and has had to sit out for a number of matches. It's also a fact that the Utes weren't expected to do as well as they have.

"All things considered, you might say we're overachievers. All of my players have winning records for the positions they're supposed to play," notes F.D. Robbins, head men's coach at Utah.

The Utes lost to New Mexico, 5-2, but Connor forfeited mid-match and the other five matches all went the full three sets. "We could have won this one as easily as we lost it," said Robbins.

Besides Connor, three other players carry the local tag. Brandon Owen, a sophomore from Highland; Brad Hasna, a sophomore from Cottonwood; and Brandon Hodges, s sophomore from Alta. Richard Nuttal, a sophomore who played at Alta, has been playing at the No. 8 spot. Called into action two weeks ago against Stanford because of two injuries, Nuttal pulled off a major win at No. 6 singles.

Other team members are Magnus Hjalmarson, a junior from Sweden; Christian Svensson, a sophomore from Sweden; and Glenn Irwin, a freshman from Australia.

The Cougars are in a little different position. Coach Jim Osborne lost four of his six starters from last year's team, which finished second behind New Mexico.

As Osborne notes, "We weren't supposed to be good this year. This was a rebuilding year for us. I think we're better than anyone expected, though."

Two players with local ties have helped the Cougars this year. Kris Rosander, who just returned from a mission and played for Skyline High, has been playing at No. 6 singles, and Lance Squire, a senior from Mountain View, has been playing between Nos. 3 and 5.

Like the Utes, the Cougars have also been hit with injuries. Kengo Usui, a freshman from Japan, was to have played No. 1, but instead had to sit out with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Also, Boris Bosnjakovic, a sophomore from Serbia, was injured.

This left him with Paul Fairchild, a senior from Australia; Shawn Hiatt, a freshman from California; Craig Manning, a senior from Australia; and Andrew Sheppert, a senior from California.

According to Osborne, it took time for his team to begin to believe in themselves, "but I think now they do."

The turning point came earlier this month in a match against the Lobos. The Cougars were expected to be blown out, but ended up losing 5-2. In two matches, however, BYU players were holding match point but eventually lost.

"This year was a crazy one for us. We either blew teams out, or we were blown out. There weren't many close ones. But we had some players step up this year into vacant spot and do well and I feel good about that," says Osborne.

Utah is in the best position to pull an upset. As the No. 3 seed it will play San Diego, a school it beat easily, 6-1, and then Fresno. One factor favoring the Utes will be the high altitude in Albuquerque. It won't help the Bulldogs.