Illini Sweep Regional First Round
The Fighting Illini Men's Tennis team made history, becoming the first team in school history to win an NCAA Championship match today at the Atkins Tennis Center with a 4-0 victory over Big Ten-rival Northwestern.
"I think the team played well today," said Head Coach Craig Tiley. "They did a good job against a Northwestern team that fought hard. We've struggled against Northwestern in regional play, but today we played tough and hung in there for the victory."
Prior to today's match, the Illini were 0-2 in NCAA Regional action with both losses coming at the hands of Northwestern. Illinois was edged in the first round in 1996 before being dispatched again by the Wildcats in 1997, in a match at the Atkins Tennis Center.
Illinois gained its first point of the match in doubles, where senior Jakub Teply and junior Matt Snyder defeated the duo of Jamie Sahara and Derrick Nguyen, 8-5. But the real excitement came in the match-up of freshman Jamal Parker and junior Jeff Laski against the duo of Joost Hol and Brad Erickson. After falling behind 7-5, Parker and Laski rallied with four consecutive points to seal the win, 9-7. The Illini duo remains undefeated on the season at 18-0. The victory also ties Parker/Laski for the record of consecutive doubles victories set by Breceknridge/Bielfeld in 1958.
In singles, junior Cary Franklin breezed past Martin Bengsston, winning easily, 6-2, 6-3. At the No. 3 spot, Laski rallied to defeat Derrick Nguyen, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. The team's clinching victory came from Oliver Freelove, as the senior took his match to three sets, overcoming a late surge by Doug Bohaboy, winning 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.
The big story of the day was the return of All-American Gavin Sontag, who saw his first action in nearly three months. The Illini senior suffered a fractured hip on February 20 against Stanford and had not played in a dual-match since. Today against Northwestern Sontag was in his third set against Joost Hol when Freelove clinched the match.
Regional action continues tomorrow at noon as the Illini take on Vanderbilt, who defeated fellow-Big Ten school, the University of Michigan, 4-3. From Champaign, the winner will travel to Athens, Georgia to compete in the round of 16 of the NCAA Championships beginning May 22.
Illinois 4, Northwestern 0