Jan. 23, 2014
Live Scoring | Tournament HQ | Hiltzik / Kopinski Interview
URBANA, Ill. - The No. 22 Fighting Illini men's tennis team will jump right into the thick of things when they hit the road to Oxford, Mississippi for the annual ITA Kick-Off Weekend. Up first, the Illini will battle No. 25 Clemson at 2 p.m. CT on Saturday, Jan. 25. If successful, Illinois will then play the winner of the Ole Miss vs. Michigan match on Sunday at 1 p.m. CT. to earn a spot at the National Indoor Championships.
ITA Kick-Off Format
This weekend marks the sixth annual ITA Kick-Off where 60 schools around the nation compete in four-team brackets for entry into the National Indoor Championships in Houston, Texas mid-February. Statistically, the Illini are in the third toughest bracket out of the 15, with all four teams ranked in the top-26. No. 10 Ole Miss will play host to No. 22 Illinois, No. 25 Clemson and No. 26 Michigan inside the Gillom Sports Center. The format and schedule of play for this weekend is as follows:
Sat, Jan 25 - Ole Miss vs. Michigan, 10 a.m.
Sat, Jan 25 - Illinois vs. Clemson, 2 p.m.
Sun, Jan 26 - Consolation Match, 9 a.m.
Sun, Jan 26 - Championship Match, 1 p.m.
New Experimental Format
During the indoor portion of the dual season, the ITA will be experimenting with a format change to college men's tennis. The dual meet will still start with three doubles matches followed by six singles matches worth one point. However the three doubles matches will each consist of one set to six, with no-ad scoring and a tiebreaker at five-all. The singles matches will also consist of no-ad scoring and a tiebreaker at 5-all in each set.
The Illini return to indoor action after hosting its annual outdoor Illini Open tournament last weekend in Ft. Myers, Florida. Both #4 Jared Hiltzik and #46 Tim Kopinski went unblemished in singles action, as they each went 3-0 over the three days. #106 Farris Gosea also produced a solid outing with a 2-1 mark.
The current crop of Illini, specifically the juniors, will be searching for their first berth to the National Indoor Championships. In 2012, Illinois took the consolation match over Georgia Tech after falling to North Carolina, and then in 2013, the Orange and Blue dropped two tough matches to Tennessee and Tulsa.
In addition to the ranked singles players above, the Illini can also boast three top-31 doubles teams. First, there's #31 Jared Hiltzik and Alex Jesse, then #27 Farris Gosea and Blake Bazarnik, and finally #4 Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon.
Scouting the Opposition
The first obstacle in the road to Houston is Clemson. The Tigers are off to a 3-0 start with wins over Furman, Presbyterian College and Gardner-Webb. The Illini are 3-2 all-time against Clemson. The last time these two teams met up was in 2006, where Illinois triumphed 7-0 against the 25th-ranked Tigers. Clemson has no ranked singles players but does have #42 Hunter Harrington and Daniel Strawn in doubles.
Ole Miss' top singles player is #15 Nik Scholtz. Scholtz is 9-5 this season and 5-5 against nationally ranked foes. He is followed by #104 William Kallberg and #108 Stefan Lindmark. In doubles, Kallberg and Lindmark check in at #51. Illinois is 4-3 against Ole Miss all-time, last defeating the Rebels 4-3 at the 2007 NCAA Championships.
Michigan is off to a 2-0 start with wins against Western Michigan and Toledo. Michigan has no current singles players ranked in the top-125 or doubles teams in the top-60. Illinois trails Michigan 34-62-3 in the all-time series, dropping 5-2 to the Wolverines last April.
B1G Tennis Athlete of the Week
In 2013, Jared Hiltzik became the first Illini to garner the Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week award three times in the spring dual season. Now, after the team's first week of play in 2014, Hiltzik has already earned his first weekly conference honor of the new spring season. The Big Ten office announced Hiltzik the winner after a stellar debut at the annual Illini Open in Ft. Myers, Fla. that saw the sophomore take home the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. The fourth ranked singles player in the country produced a 3-0 mark in singles action, winning each of his matches in straight sets.
New Year, Familiar Look
Despite the losses of Stephen Hoh and Bruno Abdelnour, who had a combined 142 singles victories, Illinois has reloaded by returning seven players from last year's squad and added Vanderbilt transfer Blake Bazarnik to the mix. Thus, the team is unique in that it has four juniors and four sophomores.
Hiltzik returns after earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten last spring. In the fall, Hiltzik reached the finals of the ITA National Indoor Championships. The Illini's top doubles team also returns after another year of experience under their belt. Last spring, Kopinski/Guignon went 10-4 in dual matches, including six wins over top-50 ranked teams.
The Illini continue its road trip to start the 2014 dual season by heading east for a double dip in North Carolina with Duke on Jan. 31 and UNC on Feb. 1. Both contests are slated for 5 p.m. CT.
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