Men's Tennis
Illinois Readies for Midweek Battle Against Kentucky

Senior Brandon Davis and the Illini travel to Kentucky.
Senior Brandon Davis and the Illini travel to Kentucky.

March 31, 2008

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The No. 16 Illinois men's tennis team remains on the road for a mid-week battle against the University of Kentucky on Wednesday, April 2 in Lexington, Ky., at 2 p.m. CT. The Illini (10-6, 3-1 Big Ten) are coming off a tough setback at the hands of Wisconsin on Sunday, marking their first conference loss of the season, while the Wildcats (10-10, 3-5 SEC) were boasting a four-match win streak before No. 7 Mississippi ended that in their last outing. Both teams will be looking to return to the win column when they meet at the Boone Tennis Complex.

Illinois has faced three prior opponents from the Southeastern Conference before traveling to Kentucky, turning in mixed results in those contests with a loss to Tennessee (4-3) and Florida (6-1) before taking down LSU (6-1) at home. For the Wildcats, they have faced only one Big Ten competitor prior to welcoming the Orange and Blue on Wednesday, that being the Indiana Hoosiers, who defeated the Wildcats by a score of 4-3.

Live scoring will not be available for Illinois' match against No. 50 Kentucky on Wednesday at the Boone Tennis Center. A full recap of the match will be available, however, as soon as results are reported at the official home of Illinois men's tennis,

Illinois heads into the dual on Wednesday with a No. 16 ranking in the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Men's Tennis Poll released on March 25. The newest poll is set to be released on Tuesday, April 1, with the Illini expected to drop in the rankings after a 5-2 loss to No. 45 Wisconsin on Sunday. With the loss, Illinois dropped its first conference match of the year, but is not in a slump by any means as they have won five of their last seven contests. That stretch includes victories over ranked teams in three of those duals. Illinois is 10-6 on the year and 3-1 in conference action.

On the court, seniors No. 9-ranked Ryan Rowe (21-12) and No. 80-ranked Ruben Gonzales (10-8) head the Illini lineup in the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, respectively, in singles. Junior Marc Spicijaric (9-7) and sophomore No. 76-ranked Billy Heiser (19-11) share the duties at either Nos. 3 and 4 singles to make up the top of the lineup for the Illini.

No. 22 Rowe and Heiser (19-4) and the 32nd-ranked tandem of senior Brandon Davis and Gonzales (11-5) flip-flop between the Nos. 1 and 2 doubles slots to represent the top of the lineup for Illinois in doubles. Spicijaric and freshman Connor Roth are the most recent pair to hold down the duties at No. 3 doubles, posting an early 3-2 record since first playing in a dual against Purdue.

While the Kentucky Wildcats had a loss handed to them in their last outing against No. 7 Mississippi (5-2), they have been on a roll as of late when it comes to facing ranked opponents. Before their loss to the Rebels, the Wildcats upset a number of ranked opponents, including No. 38 Mississippi State, No. 25 Auburn and No. 27 Notre Dame.

Kentucky's (10-10 overall, 3-5 SEC) keys to the victories were doubles play. The Cats won two out of three matches on the wide courts to clinch the pivotal doubles point in each victory. Then, a notable leader for Kentucky this season and most especially in its upset wins was freshman Alberto Gonzalez, who sealed the victory for the Cats at No. 5 singles against Auburn and ND. At No. 1 singles, No. 48 Bruno Agostinelli directs the Wildcat lineup and is coming off a strong performance in UK's win over the Irish. Agostinelli is the only player in the Kentucky lineup that boasts a national ranking heading.

Kentucky is one of the few teams in the country that can boast it has a winning record against the Illini in their short series history. UK leads the overall series 13-9, but Illinois has won the last two meetings by outscoring the Wildcats 14-0 behind two 7-0 victories in 2006 and 2007. The last Kentucky triumph came in 2005, when the Cats managed a rare 4-3 upset over then No. 2-ranked Illinois in Urbana.

Senior Ryan Rowe has shown his leadership on the court in a number of ways, but his most recent includes reaching the 20-win plateau (21-12) for the third straight season in his career and is the first Illini to reach the feat in 2008. Rowe is trailed by sophomore Billy Heiser, who is just one win away from joining his Illini compatriot with a record of 19-11. Freshman Abe Souza is the next closest Orange and Blue netter at 16-15.

In doubles, Rowe also is on the heels of yet another 20-win season in his career - his third when he reaches the feat - as he and sophomore Heiser are one victory shy of the milestone at 19-4. The mark has rocketed the pair to a 22nd-place ranking in the country. The senior tandem of Brandon Davis and Ruben Gonzales are the next closest Illini doubles team in line for 20 wins, as they stand nine wins away at 11-5.

The Illinois men's tennis team has hit its stride as of late, winning five of its last seven matches, which helped Illinois also extend its home winning streak to five during that stretch as well. On top of that, three Illini are currently holding singles winning streaks of two-or-more, including senior Ryan Rowe (2-straight, 8 of last 10), junior Marc Spicijaric (5-straight, 6 of last 8) and freshman Abe Souza (4-straight, 5 of last 7).

In doubles, Billy Heiser and Rowe have nabbed six straight wins - an Illinois doubles best in 2008 - and have won 12 of their last 15 contests to lead all Orange and Blue doubles pairs on the year with 19 wins. Joining the duo is the tandem of senior Brandon Davis and Ruben Gonzales, who have won 12 of their last 16 matches and also tallied four straight matches twice this season.

A staple in the Illini lineup for years - and 2008 is no exception - has been their play in doubles. Illinois has swept the doubles point five times this season (Ball State, No. 17 LSU, Purdue, No. 27 TCU, Northwestern), including in three of its last five matches and is 5-0 when doing so. UI has won the point a total of 12 out of 16 times this season.

Overall, Illinois is 10-2 when winning the point and is 0-4 when dropping the pivotal point. Illinois' team result by specific doubles positions is 8-2 when winning at No. 1, 10-4 when winning at No. 2 and 7-1 when winning at No. 3.

Senior Ruben Gonzales earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the week ending March 3, the conference office announced on March 4. Gonzales earned his second honor of 2008 after previously garnering the distinction for the week ending Jan. 28. The Illini senior grabbed his last distinction after teaming with senior Brandon Davis to go 2-0 in doubles action and 2-0 in singles to help Illinois win its league opener over No. 65 Michigan State on Feb. 29 before upsetting No. 12 Notre Dame on March 1. The honor is Gonzales' third of his career.

In his victories, Gonzales helped Illinois hand the Fighting Irish their first loss to a Big Ten team this season, as Notre Dame entered the match a perfect 5-0 prior to the setback. The Terre Haute, Ind., native also helped UI card its 11th straight Big Ten opening win with its demolishing of Michigan State on Friday.

Since Illinois stormed onto the tennis scene as one of the powerhouses of collegiate men's tennis in the early '90s, the Illini have reined atop the standings of the Big Ten Conference as well.

When legendary head coach Craig Tiley officially took over the program in 1993, the Illini followed with a runner-up finish in 1996, its highest since 1984. Then came Illinois supremacy, as it won the league championship a record nine straight years from 1995-05, losing only three regular season contests and winning 83 straight regular season matches in the process. Tiley's Big Ten crown total is one short of matching the amount of titles Illinois garnered in a 60-plus year span when it won its first in 1914 and its 10th in 1946. Tiley accomplished his feat in only 12 years of coaching.

Now, since head coach Brad Dancer took over the program in 2005, that fact has not changed. In fact, the Illini have lost only four regular season duals under Dancer's leadership, those coming against three different teams (Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin). After Illinois' match against Wisconsin, Illinois is 20-4 overall in the Big Ten under Dancer.

Winning at No. 1 Singles: 8-1
Losing at No. 1 Singles: 1-5
Winning at No. 2 Singles: 9-1
Losing at No. 2 Singles: 1-5
Winning at No. 3 Singles: 9-2
Losing at No. 3 Singles: 1-4
Winning at No. 4 Singles: 5-3
Losing at No. 4 Singles: 5-2
Winning at No. 5 Singles: 8-1
Losing at No. 5 Singles: 1-5
Winning at No. 6 Singles: 7-2
Losing at No. 6 Singles: 3-3

Illinois prepares to return home for a change when it hosts Big Ten foes No. 14 Michigan on Saturday, April 5, followed by Penn State on Sunday, April 6. According to the original schedule published earlier this year, Illinois was supposed to face Penn State on Saturday and Michigan on Sunday, but that schedule has changed to the current order of play. Both matches are scheduled for noon starts at the Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana, and should weather permit, will be played outdoors.