#22 Illini Punch Ticket to Houston
Jan. 26, 2014
OXFORD, Miss. – The #22 Illinois men's tennis team punched its ticket to the ITA National Indoor Championships by defeating Michigan 4-2 on Sunday afternoon inside the Gillom Sports Center in Oxford. The victory marks the first time this current group of Illini have qualified for National Indoors, after falling short the past two seasons.
"I'm thrilled that a group that works their tails off and enjoys playing so much gets a chance to compete at the Final 16 site," said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer. "These guys all worked incredibly hard over winter break."
The Fighting Illini found itself in an early hole after dropping the doubles point to the Wolverines. The 27th ranked team of Farris Gosea and Blake Bazarnik were the lone Illini duo to earn a win, downing Petrone/Zhu by the score of 6-4.
However, the Orange and Blue received great singles play to help them rally back against Michigan. #4 Jared Hiltzik made quick work of Vlad Stefan, 6-1, 6-1, to tie the score back up at one. Thus, by ITA Kickoff's end, Hiltzik surrendered just seven total games to his opponents combined.
#46 Tim Kopinski then gave the Illini the lead after a straight-set 6-4, 6-3 victory over Justin Rossi. It was the junior's second straight- set win of the weekend. Next, Brian Page saw his first action, playing in the No. 4 spot. The sophomore extended the lead to 3-1 after swiftly defeating Shaun Bernstein 6-2, 6-3.
Despite the Illini being one point away, the Wolverines slowly began to shift momentum back their way. Michigan's Alex Petrone came back and defeated #106 Farris Gosea 4-6, 6-5(5), 6-4, to get within a point of the Orange and Blue.
At the same time Alex Buzzi had just taken the first set against Bazarnik in the No. 5 spot. Yet, Bazarnik was able to weather the storm and settle in, as he went on to take the next two sets 6-3, 6-1 to clinch the match for the Orange and Blue.
"Interesting that Bazarnik was a guy who took a lot of responsibility over Christmas break and then had the opportunity to clinch today," continued Dancer. "I didn't realize until after the match, but the coaching staff pointed out to me this was Blake's first dual match in two years. It showed at first, but he got his legs under him and started controlling his emotions better - good for him to have this as an early feather in the his cap."
Illinois moves to 2-0 as they handed Michigan its first loss of the season, now 3-1. It was the Illini's seventh's victory over the Wolverines in their past 10 matches against each other.
"Coach Asse and Coach Rowe did a great job of managing their players and we owe a big thanks to trainer Ben from Ole Miss who kept our guys on the court all weekend," explained Dancer.
The Illini will have plenty of preparation before heading to Houston for the National Indoor Championships. Illinois remains on the road next weekend to face Duke and North Carolina. Then they return home for three matches in five days against #29 Notre Dame, #11 Texas A&M and #20 Texas.
"We have some great challenges ahead over the next month," concluded Dancer. "We will have the team ready."
No. 2 -- #27 Gosea / Bazarnik (ILL) def. Petrone / Zhu (UM), 6-4
No. 3 -- Bernstein / Wong (UM) def. #31 Hiltzik / Jesse (ILL), 6-5(3)
No. 2 -- Alex Petrone (UM) def. #106 Farris Gosea (ILL), 4-6, 6-5(5), 6-4
No. 3 -- #46 Tim Kopinski (ILL) def. Justin Rossi (UM), 6-4, 6-3
No. 4 -- Brian Page (ILL) def. Shaun Bernstein (UM), 6-2, 6-3
No. 5 -- Blake Bazarnik (ILL) def. Alex Buzzi (UM), 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
No. 6 -- Ross Guignon (ILL) vs. Barrett Franks (UM), 6-5(6-3), unfinished