Men’s tennis sets out for OSU clash

 

 

By Alex Iniguez

If anything has remained consistent the past two seasons, it’s Ohio State’s dominance in Big Ten play.

Its reign atop the conference is highlighted by 10-0 records in conference play in the 2006 and 2007 campaigns and consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championships. The No. 2 Buckeyes (24-1, 6-0 Big Ten) will carry a 32-match in-conference win streak to Urbana on Saturday to take on No. 16 Illinois (13-6, 5-1), before the Illini host No. 38 Indiana on Sunday.

“It’s going to be a battle,” junior Marc Spicijaric said. “Ohio State’s a really good team, and I think everybody on our team has the same amount of dislike towards them. So we’re going to be ready to go and riled up.”

The Buckeyes and the Illini have a longstanding rivalry, with Illinois leading 54-30-1 all time. Ohio State, however, has won four of the last five meetings. Last season, the two teams met three times. The Buckeyes defeated Illinois 7-0 in the regular season and 4-1 in the Big Ten Tournament Championship, but the Illini had the last laugh with their 4-2 victory in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

This season, Ohio State has been stellar. The Buckeyes’ only loss came at the hands of No. 1 Virginia at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championship in February. Most recently, they topped Indiana, Northwestern and Toledo before defeating No. 32 Wisconsin, a team that downed the Illini 5-2.

Ohio State is led by No. 17 Justin Kronauge and No. 18 Bryan Koniecko. Kronauge defeated No. 113 Marek Michalicka of Wisconsin on Sunday, while Koniecko’s season is highlighted by a 7-6, 6-1 win against Pepperdine’s No. 21 Bassam Beidas.

“We feel like that if we can beat Ohio State, we still have a chance down the stretch to compete for the title,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “That’s what we’re playing for. To say that (this weekend) will be an increase in terms of intensity is an understatement.”

No matter what Saturday’s outcome is, the Illini will need to stay focused in order to take down Indiana on Sunday. The Hoosiers (13-6, 3-3) are capable of upsetting Illinois, especially considering the emotional match facing the Illini on Saturday. Junior Dara McLoughlin leads an Indiana team that has defeated five teams ranked in the top 75.

Illinois is coming off an impressive weekend in taking down No. 47 Penn State and No. 15 Michigan on consecutive days by 5-2 scores.

Senior Ruben Gonzales, ranked No. 90 in the nation, secured two straight-set singles victories as well as two doubles wins while teaming with Spicijaric. Gonzales’ performance was good enough to earn him his third Big Ten Player of the Week award this season. Another senior, No. 12 Ryan Rowe, also had two singles wins and one in doubles.

The Illini will need to channel their emotions and solid play provided by these two seniors to conquer the Buckeyes and Hoosiers.

“You need to play with a certain amount of energy,” Spicijaric said. “We know that they’re going to be a very energetic team, so we can’t let their energy top ours. But we also can’t let ourselves get too high. We need to balance that and just play to win – not because we dislike them.”