Jared Hiltzik celebrates after winning his first-round match in the NCAA Singles Tournament
May 29, 2013
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It was a youth movement for the 2013 Fighting Illini men's tennis team, as four freshman and three sophomores comprised the core of the squad along with two seniors. The team hit the ground running this spring against a tough schedule that featured 12 Top-25 foes. The squad finished 17-11 and 8-3 in the Big Ten Conference. Though the group came up short in making it to the NCAA Championships, many strides and achievements were accomplished along the way.
The Illini started the spring dual season with back-to-back road wins, knocking off Toledo and Ball State before returning home to host the ITA Kickoff Weekend. Though the team failed to qualify for the ITA Indoor Championships after dropping matches to Tennessee and Tulsa, Jared Hiltzikpicked up a significant singles win against future NCAA Singles semifinalist Japie De Klerk.
Then the Orange and Blue hit a nine-day signature stretch of their season, defeating two Top-7 teams for the first time in the same season since 2007. First, the Illini downed No. 5 Duke, 4-3. Hiltzik, Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignondelivered key wins over No. 23 Fred Saba, No. 15 Michael Redlicki, and No. 38 Raphael Hemmeler respectively.
Next, Illinois upset No. 7 Kentucky, 4-3, where they received big wins from Bruno Abdelnour over No. 97 Juan Pablo Murra and Jared Hiltzik over No. 15 Tom Jomby. Tim Kopinskithen delivered the clincher with a win against Alejandro Gomez.
The Fighting Illini then opened Big Ten play with a 2-0 weekend that started with a 7-0 shutout against Iowa, their 18th straight against the Hawkeyes. Illinois then followed that performance with their 22nd straight win over Northwestern.
After a 1-1 road trip in South Bend, the Orange and Blue welcomed the top-two teams in the country in Virginia and USC. Despite two tough team losses, the Illini's No. 1 doubles team of Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignonshone bright, defeating No. 2 and eventual NCAA doubles champions Jenkins/Styslinger 8-4.
Illinois would bounce back by pushing their conference record to 4-0 with convincing wins vs. Nebraska and Wisconsin. However, during their last extended road-trip of the regular season, the Illini hit a bump in the road losing to Minnesota and Michigan before picking up a critical win over Michigan State.
Next, Illinois hosted yet another top team inside Atkins in the form of No. 5 Ohio State. Though, the Orange and Blue lost 4-3, they were the first Big Ten school to secure the doubles point against the Buckeyes, spearheaded by Kopinski/Guignon defeating No. 16 Kobelt/Smith and Jesse/Hiltzik over No. 32 McCarthy/Van Engelen. In addition, Jared Hiltzikscored yet another impressive win on the season, downing No. 9 Blaz Rola 6-4, 7-5. It was Rola's only loss on the year, as the Ohio State junior finished 32-1 on his way to a NCAA Singles championship.
The Illini then ended the regular season on a three-match win streak, picking up wins against Penn State, Indiana and Purdue. Thus, Illinois locked up the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and earned a first-round bye.
Before the tournament got underway, Jared Hiltzik and Tim Kopinski were named First and Second Team All-Big Ten, respectively. Furthermore, Hiltzik became the sixth Illini newcomer to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Lastly, senior Bruno Abdelnourwas Illinois' Sportsmanship honoree for the second consecutive year.
Next, Illinois head coach Brad Dancercontinued his streak of not suffering a loss in the opening match of the Big Ten Tournament with a 4-2 win over Northwestern. The reward was a rematch with Ohio State, as the Buckeyes once again prevailed.
The Fighting Illini men's tennis team then made the NCAA Tournament field for the 18th straight season. Yet, their road to the NCAA Championships was an unaccustomed route, hitting the road for Regionals before potentially returning home for the Championships as Illinois hosted the NCAA finals for the first time in school history.
The Orange and Blue got off to a great start in Nashville as they remained a perfect 15-0 in the First Round after a 4-0 shutout of Georgia State, their fifth shutout of the year. Yet, the homecoming bid fell just short as the No. 16 seed Vanderbilt Commodores bested Illinois 4-1 to end their season. Freshman Alex Jessehighlighted the match by winning 11 straight games to score the Illini's lone point in a 7-5, 6-0 win.
Hiltzik delighted the home crowd with a thrilling three-set win over No. 22 Adrien Puget from UCLA. However, his run was cut short at the Round of 32 after eight-seed Henrique Cunha of Duke defeated the freshman.
Finally, Kopinski/Guignon received a tough draw in the form of a rematch vs. four-seed Jenkins/Styslinger of Virginia. Though the result ended in a loss, Kopinski/Ross displayed an exhilarating performance, accentuated by the 10-8 winning second set tiebreak score. Hiltzik was named the Advantage Illinois Most Valuable Player by his teammates after going 29-11 overall, 13-4 in the No. 1 position and 9-2 against conference opponents. In addition, Hiltzik was the first Illini to achieve Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week honors three times in a spring season since Ruben Gonzalesin 2008.
Strength and Conditioning Award winner Tim Kopinski finished with the second most wins on the squad with a 22-18 overall mark and a 13-11 dual match record. As previously stated, Kopinski thrived in doubles with partner Ross Guignon, who won the Chris MartinFighting Illini Spirit Award. The duo went 10-4 in dual matches and earned six victories over Top-50 ranked doubles teams. In singles, Guignon finished 17-12 overall.
Bruno Abdelnouronce again takes home the Scholar Athlete Award in his final season in Orange and Blue. The Mechanical Engineering major finished his career with 60 career singles victories. Furthermore, senior Stephen Hohfinished on a high note with a four-match win streak added to his 19-13 overall mark. Hoh wrapped his Illini era with 82 career singles wins.
Farris Gosea quietly put together a solid year for the Illini, going 16-5 in dual matches and 8-0 in the No. 6 position. Alex Jesse, voted most improved player and player to watch, came on strong during the end of the season, winning five of his last seven matches. Finally, last but certainly not least, Brian Page and Julian Childerswent a combined 24-24 in their freshmen seasons.
Illinois ended the season ranked 24th in the nation.