Freshman Julian Childers led all Illini last weekend, claiming four singles victories
Jan. 17, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The No. 16 Fighting Illini men's tennis team will kick off their dual schedule this weekend in Indiana with two contests slated for Saturday, Jan. 19. First, Illinois travels to Indianapolis to take on the Toledo Rockets at 12 p.m. CT in a unique format explained below. Then, the Orange and Blue travel to Carmel for a showdown against Ball State at 5 p.m. CT, under normal ITA rules.
"The 2013 campaign is a season we have been waiting a long time to get started on, due to hosting the NCAA Championships," said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer. "We have such a young team. It's a huge challenge for these guys to see if the young boys can grow up and play like men here in the next few months. This weekend is just the beginning of the culmination of that. We talked all along about our culture and what defines Illinois tennis. I think that's what we're going to look for this weekend, to see if we are playing the brand of tennis we want to play. If we have the intensity, passion, concentration and focus to win throughout the season."
For the opening contest against Toledo, the Illini will be utilizing an experimental format based on cumulative scoring, putting emphasis on winning every game. In addition, substitutions will be allowed in the contest, though once a player exits, he cannot return to the match. The team with the most cumulative games at the end will be announced the winner.
"We are excited to be part of a group of coaches willing to experiment and try some different formats," said Coach Dancer. "It's something we want to do more than once this year and will look at some different matches to try to do some things. The format we are using with Toledo is a pressure filled format, every game counts, so the pressure starts at the first point and never ends. That to me is what can make the sport more exciting, both on the collegiate level and potentially in the future on the professional level."
Illinois is 5-2 in season openers under Coach Dancer since his debut in the 2005-06 season. The Orange and Blue have just played the Rockets out of Toledo twice in their series history, with the Illini emerging victorious on both occasions. The two squads last played on Jan. 16, 2009, where Illinois won by a score of 6-1.
Furthermore, the Illini have enjoyed a 17-8 advantage in the overall series against Ball State. Illinois has faced the Cardinals every season since 2001, remaining undefeated against them in that span at 12-0.
Scouting the Opposition
Toledo opened their 2013 season with three contests last weekend. The Rockets first battled Purdue in West Lafayette where they were swept 7-0. However, Toledo bounced back in the next match, beating IUPUI by a score of 6-1. Toledo then wrapped up the weekend with a 4-3 hard fought victory over Butler in Indianapolis.
Ball State opened it's season at Northwestern where they dropped a 6-1 decision to the Big Ten school. Cliff Morrison picked up the lone singles victory for the Cardinals.
The Illinois men's tennis team checked in at the No. 16 spot in the first Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) team rankings of the season, after concluding their 2011-12 campaign ranked 15th. The Illini are one of four Big Ten schools to crack the Top-25, the third most of all conferences, joining No. 4 Ohio State, No. 20 Michigan and No. 22 Indiana.
Freshman Jared Hiltzik, senior Stephen Hoh and sophomore Tim Kopinski were ranked in the ITA Midwest singles rankings, checking in at the No. 10, 11 and 12 spots respectively. In addition, Kopinski, along with sophomore Farris Gosea were ranked No. 56 in the ITA Men's National Doubles Rankings and second in the Midwest. The doubles team of Hiltzik and freshman Alex Jesse ranked in the Midwest as well, landing the No. 9 spot.
New Year, New Look
The Illini will have to fill the hole that was left by graduates Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich. Last year, Nevolo earned his second career All-America honor along with finishing his career tied for sixth in career singles (116) and combined wins (211) and ranked ninth in doubles victories (95). Nevolo, who reached a career high No. 2 in the national singles rankings, reached the round of 16 in both the NCAA singles and doubles championships. Illinois will turn to youth this year, welcoming back sophomore returnees Farris Gosea, Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon, while welcoming four freshmen to the fold in Jared Hiltzik, Brian Page, Alex Jesse and Julian Childers. Helping to guide the young team and provide veteran leadership this season are seniors Bruno Abdelnour and Stephen Hoh.
Last Time Out
Illinois wrapped up its opening spring tournament in Fort Myers, Fla. this past weekend in the Three Oaks Shootout. Over the course of three days, the Illini competed in round robin doubles and singles play between No. 59 Georgia Tech, No. 12 University of Florida and No. 40 North Carolina State. Freshman Julian Childers impressed, claiming the most singles victories on a 4-0 weekend. Ross Guignon also went undefeated in singles action at 3-0. Finally, senior Bruno Abdelnour and freshman Jared Hiltzik proved a deadly combo, going 2-0 as doubles pair.
Following Saturday's two matches, the Illini return home to Urbana to host the ITA Kick-off Weekend inside the Atkins Tennis Center. Illinois first faces Tennessee on Friday, Jan. 25, at 6 p.m. CT. Then the Orange and Blue with either play North Carolina or Tulsa on Saturday, Jan. 26 at a time to be announced.
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