Illinois men’s tennis splits first conference matches with fall to No. 3 Ohio State, win against Penn State

Redshirt+Junior+Siphosothando+Montsi+gets+ready+for+his+doubles+match+as+his+partner%2C+graduate+student+Oliver+Stuart%2C+hits+the+ball+during+their+match+against+Duke+on+Feb.+19.+Montsi+and+Stuart+won+their+doubles+match+against+Penn+State%2C+6-3%2C+and+the+Illini+overall+sweeping+Penn+State+4-0.+

Sidney Malone

Redshirt Junior Siphosothando Montsi gets ready for his doubles match as his partner, graduate student Oliver Stuart, hits the ball during their match against Duke on Feb. 19. Montsi and Stuart won their doubles match against Penn State, 6-3, and the Illini overall sweeping Penn State 4-0.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Conference play is officially underway for Illinois men’s tennis, as the team split their first two matches, winning on Sunday against Penn State after losing on Friday to No. 3 Ohio State.

With the first week of Big Ten play featuring two away matches, head coach Brad Dancer was upfront about the struggles of playing good teams on the road.

“It’s not easy to play on the road in conference,” Dancer said. “We saw that Friday night. We didn’t have easy circumstances today going to Penn State. It’s a lot of travel, so you have to dig deep a little bit.”

Friday’s match against the Buckeyes was one that saw the Illini lose on every court except Court 3 doubles. Court 3 brought a big performance from the No. 61 pair of graduate student Olivier Stuart and redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi, which resulted in a 6-4 win. The No. 50 pair of sophomore Hunter Heck and redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve pushed the No. 1 doubles pair in the country in Mataj Vocel and Robert Cash to the limit, but would eventually lose the tiebreaker 7-6(6). The Illini won no singles matches and the Buckeyes swept the Illini for the second time this season. 

Illinois’ match against Penn State on Sunday ended up much differently for the Illini. Doubles play saw another strong performance from Stuart/Montsi, who started off winning their match 6-3 on Court 3 before the pair of graduate student Alex Brown and freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas clinched the doubles point for the Illini with a 6-4 win on Court 2.

Singles saw more stellar performances from the Illini with Heck winning his match to put the Illini up 2-0 after a 6-3, 6-3, win on Court 3. Montsi added to the scoring with a 6-3, 6-2, win on Court 1 and Brown clinched the match with a 6-3, 7-6(2) on Court 4. The Nittany Lions fell 4-0.

Although Sunday’s win was a major win moving forward in the Big Ten, all eyes are on Illinois’ next game on Friday against No. 5 Michigan. 

“It’s funny,” Dancer said. “Instead of talking so much about this or that or anything else, we will meet with each one of the guys individually on the travel home, but our entire focus is getting ready for Michigan.”

Michigan will be Illinois’ fifth top-five opponent this month. Atkins will see action again for the first time since March 5, ending the Illini’s five away match streak and returning the home court advantage to the Illini once again.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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