Senior Ruben Gonzales and the Illini open ITA National Team Indoors against No. 6 USC.
Feb. 13, 2008
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois men's tennis team opens the 2008 ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship on Friday, Feb. 15, against sixth-ranked and seeded USC at the Seattle Tennis Club in Seattle, Wash., at 4:30 p.m. CT, 2:30 p.m. local. The Illini, who have advanced past the first round into the quarterfinals the past six straight seasons, meet the Trojans, who are defending a seven-match win streak in 2008, in the two team's first meeting since the 2005-06 season.
The 2008 ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship can be followed through live scoring and video that is available at the tournament official web site at OFFICIAL TOURNAMENT WEB SITE by clicking on the "Live Video or Live Scoring" links on the left hand side of the page. The tournament's live scoring and video is provided to fans free of charge, and will update continuously throughout the day and match.
A full recap of the Illini's match against the Trojans will be available on the official home of Illinois men's tennis, fightingillini.com, at the conclusion of the match on Friday night.
ILLINOIS & USC'S ITA INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
Illinois is making its 12th straight appearance at the ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship since its first showing in 1996-97. USC is making its 26th appearance. Both programs have won the title twice, with Illinois capturing its crowns in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004. The Trojans also have taken home the title in back-to-back years, 1987-88, and are competing in the tournament for the first time since 2005. Illinois boasts an overall record of 26-10 at the Championships, while USC is 49-35.
In Illinois' 11 previous appearances, they have finished second three times (1998, 1999, 2002) and were champions twice. Southern California, on the other hand, has its two titles and four runner-up (1976, 1977, 1985, 1991) performances.
A LOOK AT THE FIELD
In the history of the championship, Stanford owns the most titles with 12 - but is not in this year's field - while Georgia leads all 2008 participants with 30 previous appearances and two titles (2006-07). The Bulldogs are the two-time defending indoor champions and the last titlist to win in Seattle, while they also are coming off a 32-0 season en route to the NCAA Championship in 2008. UCLA trails the Bulldogs with 27 appearances overall and owns the most crowns, seven, of any team in this year's bracket. However, no team has ever won the title in three consecutive years, technically. Stanford won the title in 1973, 1975 and 1976, being prevented from the unprecedented feat when the tournament was not held in 1974.
ILLINOIS IN THE OPENING ROUND
Illinois is almost unstoppable in the opening round of the ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship, posting a 9-2 mark in 11 appearances and has won the last six straight openers heading into its meeting with the USC Trojans on Friday. Below is a breakdown of its 11 past opponents, the result and the year it took place in.
FIRST ROUND (9-2; Six Straight Wins)
1996-97 First Round W, (4-2) #3 Mississippi State
1997-98 First Round W, (4-3) #2 UCLA
1998-99 First Round W, (4-2) #12 Tennessee
1999-00 First Round L, (4-3) #2 Stanford
2000-01 First Round L, (4-3) #8 Florida
2001-02 First Round W, (4-1) #11 California
2002-03 First Round W, (4-0) #32 Harvard
2003-04 First Round W, (4-0) #48 Tulsa
2004-05 First Round W, (4-2) #13 Kentucky
2005-06 First Round W, (4-0) #46 Arkansas
2006-07 First Round W, (4-2) #14 Oklahoma State
UNVEILING THE "TROJAN" HORSE
The No. 6-ranked USC Trojans come into the matchup against the Illini with momentum on their side, as they have blasted off to one of the nation's best starts, 7-0, in the 2008 campaign. USC is led by a talented doubles duo in Robert Farah and Kaes Van't Hof, who are ranked No. 2 in the most recent ITA rankings released on Jan. 8. Farah also is tabbed No. 9 in singles, followed by No. 43 Gary Sacks.
Just released on Feb. 12, Van't Hof also was named the Pac 10 Player of the Week, helping lead USC to their seventh-straight victory when they took down No. 27 Boise State - a 2008 ITA Indoor Participant - 5-2 in their last outing. USC is coming off a 2008 season in which it started a program-best (since 1987) of 11-0 en route to a NCAA quarterfinals appearance and a 23-3 overall record.
USC's success, so far, can be attributed to its strong bottom half of the lineup. Three regular players sit in those singles slots, combining for an 18-1 record in dual match play. Freshman Jaak Poldma has a 7-0 mark, sophomore Jason McNaughton is 6-1 and junior Abdullah Magdas is 5-0, teaming up as the lineup at Nos. 4, 5 and 6, respectively, throughout the majority of the season.
Illinois, a 2007 NCAA Finalist, has a talented core of players leading its lineup heading into the 2008 edition of the National Men's Team Indoor Championship and its match against USC. Senior Ryan Rowe, ranked No. 15, heads a veteran pack of three seniors on the Illinois roster. He is joined by senior Ruben Gonzales, who has played all of his dual matches primarily at No. 1, boasting a 3-1 record in the top slot and a 4-1 record overall in duals. Rounding out the talented seniors is Brandon Davis, who helps make up the top doubles pair for Illinois of Gonzales/Davis. The duo is 5-1 on the year and a perfect 4-0 in dual action, including an upset victory against No. 1 Somdev Devvarman and Treat Huey of Virginia.
Sophomore and No. 70-ranked Billy Heiser has been a consistent contributor at No. 3 singles and Nos. 1 and 2 doubles for Illinois. He is 6-5 against ranked opponents and 11-8 overall in singles, and has teamed up with Rowe to be the 36th-ranked duo in the country. The pair is 10-2 overall, 1-1 against ranked foes and 3-1 in duals.
ILLINOIS VS. USC
Illinois leads the all-time battle over USC at 3-2 in the series, having won the last two straight over the Trojans. The last Trojan win came in the 2002 NCAA quarterfinals (4-2), the only meeting between the two teams during tournament action, prior to the upcoming contest. In their last meeting, Illinois dismantled Southern California, 6-1, at home on March 16, 2006. This is the first time the two have faced each other at National Team Indoors.
LEADING THE TROJAN ARMY
No. 9 Robert Farah (USC) has by far been the hot hand in the Trojans lineup since his emergence in collegiate tennis at the Polo Ralph Lauren/ITA All-American Championships in the fall. Farah (USC) reached the main draw as a qualifier, winning eight matches in six days on his way to the final match against Georgia's Travis Helgeson. Farah became the first Trojan to reach the All-American singles final since 1987, when Scott Melville won the title. Farah also was the first qualifier to reach the final since 2001. Farah Enters the dual 18-8 overall on the year, 4-3 at No. 1 singles.
In doubles, Farah is part of the duo (Kaes Van't Hof) that won the doubles ITA West Regional title, advanced to the ITA National Indoor final in Columbus and is unbeaten in dual play this year at 5-0.
AT THE HELM FOR USC
The Trojans have found their way to the top-10 of collegiate tennis behind the leadership of one of the top coaches in the Pac-10 and the country. 2007 Pac-10 Coach of the Year Peter Smith and his assistant Brett Masi both earned regional honors for their roles in pushing USC back into the postseason with 2007's deep postseason run and a 23-3 overall finish. Four members of the Trojans' NCAA team are back for 2008, along with three players sidelined last season and the addition of three new faces to Troy.