Doubles point goes to waste as Illini fall to Buckeyes

 

 

By Jeremy Werner

Marc Spicijaric felt the pressure. With the season on the line, his legs on the verge of cramping and the 19th-ranked player in the nation across the net, how could he not?

With the No. 15 Illinois men’s tennis team tied 3-3 with No. 2 Ohio State in the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships in Tulsa, Okla., the Illinois junior had to defeat Justin Kronauge in order for the Illini to advance to the round of eight.

Spicijaric pushed the Buckeyes’ Kronauge to a third-set tiebreaker in the No. 3 singles match but fell to his conference foe in the tiebreak 7-3 in front of a roaring crowd.

“Marc handled it well,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “He was down match point twice but kept fighting.”

The loss was one of several upset chances the Illini had but failed to close out this season. The Illini led Ohio State 3-2 on April 27 but fell to the Buckeyes after losing the final two matches.

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    Dancer said the team is still “despondent” and “not over the match” several days later.

    “It’s hard to say that ultimately it wasn’t a disappointing season,” Dancer said. “It was a little bit of a season of almost. I hate to say that, but that’s the reality of it. It makes you a little bit sick to your stomach and as hungry as possible to get trained here for next year.”

    With the doubles point and sophomore Billy Heiser’s straight-set victory, the Illini led 2-0 early. But the Buckeyes won three matches in a row, leaving the Illini with a 3-2 deficit until freshman Waylon Chin knotted the score at 3-3 with a three-set victory at No. 6 singles. Chin also helped solidified the doubles point for Illinois, winning No. 3 doubles by a score of 9-8 with partner Brandon Davis, a senior.

    “Waylon, I think is a lot better preparing down the stretch than his team,” Dancer said. “We’re really looking forward to how he can improve this summer and into next year as well.

    “We can beat those good teams … or if we don’t beat them, we know we can be right there with them,” Dancer said. “But we lost to some teams that aren’t at our same level, and that’s probably where we have to be more consistent looking at next year.”

    Tennis attendance No. 2 in nation

    The Illinois men’s tennis team finished second in the inaugural ITA Attendance race with 6,046 fans visiting the Atkins Tennis Center this season. The Illini averaged 550 fans per match.

    Virginia finished first with an attendance of 6,590. Illinois’ home match against Virginia on Jan. 25 drew a nation-best 1,231 fans.

    The Illinois women finished fifth in the attendance race with an average of 156.