Men's Tennis Season in Review
June 2, 2014
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The 2014 Fighting Illini men's tennis team provided several thrills in a memorable year which saw them post a 24-9 record, the most wins since the 2006 season. Illinois qualified for the ITA National Indoor Championships, finished second in the conference (10-2) and the Big Ten Tournament, were ranked as high as sixth in the nation, and went undefeated at home (13-0) for the first time since 2004. The Orange and Blue capped their great year with its 19th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, reaching the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in Coach Dancer's nine years at the helm.
The Illini started the year by punching its ticket to Houston for the National Indoor Championships via victories over #25 Clemson and Michigan. It marked the first time the current group of sophomores and juniors qualified for the national event. Illinois then suffered its first setback, falling 5-2 to both #15 Duke and North Carolina on the road.
The squad bounced back in a major way, accomplishing one of the most memorable three-match home stands in program history. Illinois defeated #16 Notre Dame (score was 5-2), #8 Texas A&M (4-1) and #10 Texas (4-3) all in a five day period. More impressively, the Illini achieved the feat after dropping the doubles point in each match.
At National Indoors, the Illini had seventh-seeded Oklahoma against the ropes, up 3-2 late in the match. Jared Hiltzik rallied to force a third set against #2 Guillermo Alcorta but the Sooner eventually prevailed 6-4 before Dane Webb clinched over Brian Page. The Illini ended up shutting out #15 Pepperdine and falling to #8 Texas A&M before returning from Houston.
March witnessed the Illini start 3-0 in conference play for the third straight year, defeating both #23 Northwestern and Purdue for the 24th consecutive times. March 14 was a special day at Atkins, for it was a standing room only crowd for the Illini's College MatchDay vs. Pepperdine on ESPN3. Illinois shut out the Waves for the second time that season, with over 750 fans in attendance. March then ended with the Illini's only two losses in Big Ten play with an overturned result vs. #23 Penn State and a 5-2 loss to #2 Ohio State.
April started with yet another top-25 victory, this time with a 4-2 decision over #14 Kentucky in Lexington. The win ignited what would be a nine match win streak for Illinois, its longest since the 2006 season. The streak ran all the way to the Big Ten Tournament Championship match, right after Illinois defeated Michigan for the third time that season. However, in the finals, the Buckeyes got the best of the Illini once more, claiming the trophy with a 4-2 win.
The Orange and Blue hosted the First and Second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, where they started off with a 4-0 sweep over the Cardinals of Ball State. Next up, was the match simply dubbed, "The Comeback." Down 3-0 to #22 Memphis and staving off two match points, the Illini rallied behind singles victories from Hiltzik, Tim Kopinski, Blake Bazarnik and Ross Guignon.
Next, Illinois returned to Athens, Georgia, for the NCAA Championships where they clashed with the only team that had shut them out earlier in the season. Unfortunately for the Illini, lightning struck twice and #5 Baylor moved on with a 4-0 win.
It was also a tremendous year individually for several Fighting Illini as well. Hiltzik, Gosea, Kopinski and Guignon all garnered All-American honors, with the duo of Kopinski/Guignon becoming the first doubles All-Americans since 2007. Hiltzik, Kopinski/Guignon were seeded in the NCAA Singles and Doubles tournaments while Gosea placed in the final top-20 rankings.
Gosea, Hiltzik and Kopinski were all named First-Team All-Big Ten selections. More notably, a season after primarily playing No. 5 and 6 singles, Farris Gosea was awarded Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Year. It marked the first time an Illini earned the achievement since Kevin Anderson in 2007.
Gosea went undefeated in conference play (10-0), posted a 23-4 dual record and recorded the longest win streak on the team (12 straight). The Cardiff, Whales, native posted a 10-2 record against ranked opponents this past spring, picking up big wins against foes such as #11 Tom Jomby of Kentucky and #8 Peter Kobelt of Ohio State. Finally, Gosea's 36 overall wins ties Amer Delic for the sixth most in a single season.
Hiltzik finished with a 17-6 dual record and 31-11 overall mark. Over the year, the sophomore collected 12 wins against ranked opponents, including a nice run to the ITA National Indoor finals in November. In addition, Kopinski finished with the second most wins on the squad at 21-7, improving his dual record by eight victories from the year prior. Furthermore, Kopinski made the NCAA Singles tournament as an alternate.
The trio of Gosea, Hiltzik and Kopinski combined for four Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week awards. The three competitors also went a combined 69-17, good for a .802 winning percentage. Mainly playing the No. 4 spot, transfer Blake Bazarnik tallied a 20-7 dual record in his first season donning the Orange and Blue. In fact, Illinois went 14-0 this past season when the player at No. 4 singles won his match.
Julian Childers saw his first dual match action where he went 7-5 and was on the verge of providing Illinois its lone point vs. Baylor in the Sweet 16. Alex Jesse recorded a 9-5 dual record, coming on strong late in the year. Brian Page, who was riddled with hand and foot injuries throughout the season, still produced four dual match victories for the Illini. Finally, Ross Guignon went 14-7 in dual matches and 16-5 in doubles along with partner Tim Kopinski. The duo posted a 8-1 mark in Big Ten play and secured a 5-2 record against top-30 ranked doubles teams.
Illinois finished the year ranked No. 11 in the country and will return all eight members to next year's team.