Illini senior trio end careers with wins

Illinois senior Chris Martin prepares to hit an overhead as senior Conner Murninghan moves into a defensive position on Sunday against Wisconsin at the Atkins Tennis Center. Online Poster

Illinois senior Chris Martin prepares to hit an overhead as senior Conner Murninghan moves into a defensive position on Sunday against Wisconsin at the Atkins Tennis Center. Online Poster

By Amber Greviskes

The Illinois men’s tennis team completed another chapter of its storied history this weekend when Illini seniors Chris Martin, Conner Murninghan and Evan Zeder competed in their last home matches of the regular season.

The trio, honored before the start of Saturday’s match against Northwestern, has left a lasting legacy on the program.

The senior class is only five wins away from becoming the winningest class in the programs’ history. It is very likely that the men will reach that mark, too, with two regular season matches and the championship season still remaining.

But it is not the men’s accomplishments that have impressed the Illinois coaches.

Illinois associate head coach Brad Dancer, who joined the team this season, said the seniors’ leadership was the most remarkable aspect of their class.

“We’re fortunate to have a group that has such a diverse personality,” Dancer said. “They are each so different and they each bring their own unique characteristics to the program – and I think that is what is so special about them.”

Martin, who Illinois head coach Craig Tiley has described as the anchor of the team, was instrumental to the Illini’s win on Saturday.

Martin clinched the match with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Northwestern’s Adam Schaechterle. The Illini went on to defeat the Wildcats 5-2.

“It’s always cool to clinch the match whether it is senior day or the third Thursday of the month,” Martin said.

In fact, Martin said, the win was bittersweet because the Illini did not play as well as they expected to.

Tiley said he had “mixed emotions” about the results.

“We’re doing better in doubles, so that is good – it’s a little bit of a silver lining,” Tiley said.

He has also been pleased with the performances of Martin and Illini freshmen Ruben Gonzales and Kevin Anderson.

On Saturday, Gonzales made his first appearance in the lineup at the No. 3 position.

“The way he’s playing, that (No. 3 position) is a good spot for him,” Tiley said of Gonzales’ improvement.

However, Gonzales said he is excited just to be able to contribute to the team.

“Every time they put me in I look at it as an opportunity to get better,” Gonzales said. “It doesn’t make too much of a difference to me (where I play).”

Gonzales said that it was important for the Illini to play well throughout the weekend because the team was celebrating the seniors’ accomplishments. However, the team was still focused on its ultimate goals – improving and making a deep run into the NCAA Tournament in May.

“It’s Senior Day and it is a special time for those guys and a special time for us,” Gonzales said. “But every match is the same.”

The Illini continued their celebration of the seniors on Sunday with a 6-1 victory over Wisconsin.

“It was a good result for us today in terms of number of matches won,” Dancer said.

Zeder and Illinois junior Pramod Dabir joined forces to win their doubles match 8-1 when they defeated Jordan Raemisch and Steve Guntly.

Murninghan and Martin teamed up in doubles as well, but lost. The senior duo fell to Jeremy Sonkin and Mark Weining 9-7.

Martin came back to win his singles match over Weining 6-1, 7-5 with his father Scott, a former tennis standout at Oklahoma, watching.

“He didn’t even know it was Senior Day until they asked him to come onto the court,” Chris said. “But, it was nice to have that support.”