Top-25 Big Ten Showdowns Await #10 Illinois
March 26, 2014
THE WEEKEND AHEAD
The No. 10 Fighting Illini men's tennis team (13-5, 3-0) will certainly be tested this weekend when they hit the road once more for two Top-25 Big Ten showdowns. First up is No. 23 Penn State (15-2, 2-1) on Friday at 2 p.m. CT at University Park, Pa. Then, Illinois departs for Columbus in hopes to knock off No. 2 Ohio State (19-2, 4-0) on Sunday at 11 a.m. CT.
A QUICK GLANCE BACK
The Orange and Blue bounced back nicely from its 4-0 loss to now No. 6 Baylor with back-to-back shutouts on Sunday. Illinois first defeated Indiana 7-0 before taking down Ball State 4-0 in Indianapolis. It marked the fifth and sixth shutout victories on the year.
The Illini have started 3-0 in conference play for the third straight year, picking up victories over Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana. Illinois enters the weekend winning seven of its last eight matches. The Illini are currently led in singles by the trio of Blake Bazarnik, Tim Kopinski and Farris Gosea, who all possess 12 dual match victories this spring.
Bazarnik has won seven consecutive matches for the Orange and Blue, good for a 12-2 dual record. Bazarnik's last loss occurred to Texas A&M's Jackson Withrow back on Feb. 16.
Like Blake, Farris Gosea boasts a 2-0 mark in Big Ten play. Gosea has posted a 5-1 record at No. 1 singles in Hiltzik's absence, including a 6-2 record against nationally ranked foes.
Tim Kopinski has split time between No. 2 and 3 singles, recording a 6-2 mark at both thus far. Kopinski is 7-1 in his last 10 matches.
SCOUTING THE OPPONENTS
The 23rd ranked Nittany Lions started the year with 10 straight wins, all at home, before dropping 5-2 to Ohio State. Penn State's second loss came nine days later, falling 4-3 to South Florida. Since, PSU has rebounded with wins over Central Florida, Southern Miss, Michigan State and Michigan. Illinois will try to be the first team to win at Penn State this season.
Leonard Stakhovsky is the lone ranked singles player on the squad, checking in at No. 50. Stakhovsky is 13-2 in dual matches, all at the No. 1 position. Stakhovsky has won three in-a-row, including a 8-2 mark in his last 10.
In doubles, Stakhovsky partners with Russell Bader to form the 28th ranked team in the country. The duo are 11-3 this spring with a 2-0 start to Big Ten play. They are joined by No. 54 Michel Reilly and Chris Young, who are undefeated at 9-0.
The No. 2 Buckeyes are 19-2 and 4-0 in conference play. Like the Nittany Lions, Ohio State is undefeated at home, boasting a 12-0 mark. The Buckeyes are off to a great spring, winning the National Indoor Championships in mid-February, knocking off Florida, Texas, Virginia and USC to do so. OSU has recorded 5-2 victories over Indiana, Michigan State and Penn State while defeating Michigan 6-1.
OSU can utilize its three ranked singles players this weekend. Four-time Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week Peter Kobelt is ranked eighth in the country. The senior is 13-1 in dual matches and the winner of eight straight. Hunter Callahan is ranked 97th with his 17-2 record while Kevin Metka's 17-2 mark resulted in 109 ranking.
Doubles will feature a premier matchup on Sunday when the Illini's third ranked team of Kopinski/Guignon battle the sixth ranked team of Kobelt/Metka (12-3 dual record).
The Illini have found great success against Penn State, accumulating a 27-3 all-time record against the Big Ten foe.
Illinois does hold a 57-42-1 lead over OSU in the all-time series record. The Buckeyes swept the Illini last season, taking the regular season matchup 4-3 before shutting out the Orange and Blue 4-0 at the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini last defeated the Buckeyes when they upset Ohio State to claim the Big Ten Tournament championship in 2012.
ILLINI IN THE RANKINGS
The March 25 ITA poll saw the Fighting Illini drop one spot to the No. 10 position despite posting two shutout wins last week. Illinois started the year with a preseason rank of 22 before rising all the way to a season best No. 6 on March 4.
In doubles, Kopinski and Ross Guignon stayed at their career high No. 3 ranking. The duo are 10-2 this spring and the winners of seven straight. The recently formed team of Farris Gosea and Alex Jesse were recognized for their 4-0 start, landing in the No. 59 spot this week.
The Illini have seemed to have found the right formula to doubles play after struggling earlier in the season. The Orange and Blue started the year with obtaining the early 1-0 advantage over Clemson, but then lost the next six straight doubles points. Illinois has since rebounded by winning the last seven of eight doubles point opportunities.
The Orange and Blue have competed in 18 matches thus far, including ten against top-25 ranked opponents. Illinois is off to a solid start, accumulating a 6-4 mark against the ranked foes. The Illini have knocked off No. 25 Clemson, No. 16 Notre Dame, No. 8 Texas A&M, No. 10 Texas, No. 15 Pepperdine and No. 23 Northwestern.
A LOOK AHEAD
Following this weekend, the Illini will compete in three matches in five days, including two at home against Big Ten opponents. The Orange and Blue travel to Lexington on April 2 to battle No. 13 Kentucky before returning home to Urbana to challenge Michigan State on April 4 and Michigan on April 6.