Illinois Claims Regular Season Big Ten Title
The second-ranked University of Illinois men's tennis team won the battle of unbeatens today in convincing fashion, as the Illini blasted No. 30 Michigan, 6-1, in Ann Arbor to clinch the first-ever Big Ten regular season title. Illinois is now 9-0 in conference and has won a school-record 28 straight against Big Ten opponents.
"The guys did a good job and fought hard," said Head Coach Craig Tiley. "Today was a tough, well-played match in front of a good home crowd at Michigan. The guys are starting to pick it up now towards the end of the year and that's what you want going into the championship part of the season."
Both teams entered today's dual a perfect 8-0 in the conference. Illinois' victory clinches the first-ever Big Ten regular season title and the top seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, which will be played in Ann Arbor, Mich., from April 29 to May 2.
For the sixth straight contest, Illinois swept all three doubles matches to claim a 1-0 lead. At No. 1 doubles, Illinois' third-ranked duo of Oliver Freelove and Cary Franklin broke the school record for wins in a season by defeating Michigan's team of Wright/McCain, 8-4. The Illini duo has now won 14 straight matches and improves to 29-7 on the season, breaking the former record of 28 wins set by the pair of Peter Bouton and Mike Meyer in 1983.
At the No. 2 spot, the UI pair of Jeff Laski and Jamal Parker are now 14-0 on the season after beating the team of Farah/McFarlane, 8-5. Both Illini duos are challenging the UI school record for consecutive doubles wins, which is 18 straight by the pair of Breckenridge/Bielfeld in 1958.
The Illini rolled to three straight-set wins to send the Wolverines to their first Big Ten loss of the year. At No. 1 singles, Freelove won his sixth straight match by routing Matt Wright, 6-1, 6-2. Franklin was also victorious, sweeping past William Farah, 7-5, 6-2, at the No. 2 spot. With these triumphs, Freelove and Franklin earned their 29th singles wins of the year, equalling a career-high for both players.
At No. 4 singles, Jakub Teply continued to build on his team-best win total by leading Danny McCain, 7-5, 5-4, when the freshman retired. The Illini senior is now 31-14 on the year, the third-highest win total in Illinois men's tennis history. Only Jerry Turek (32 wins in 1997) and current-senior Gavin Sontag (40 wins in 1998) have won more matches in a single season.
Two Illini went the full three sets to pull out victories, as Mike Kosta inched closer to the freshman record for singles wins by rallying to defeat fellow-frosh Henry Beam, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, at the No. 5 position. Kosta is now 26-8 this season, just three wins shy of the freshman record of 29 wins held by three current Illini: Franklin, Freelove and Teply.
The Illini have already equalled their win total of a year ago, as the squad improves to 21-3 on the season, just two wins shy of the school record of 23 victories set in 1984. Illinois will aim for its second straight undefeated conference regular season on Sunday, as the Illini travel to Michigan State to battle the Spartans at 1 p.m.