No. 11 Illini tennis clash with No. 61 Penn State, No. 3 Ohio State

Following a Saturday visit from No. 61 Penn State, No. 3 Ohio State (23-1, 6-0 Big Ten) will try on Sunday to maintain its dominance against a No. 11 Illinois (17-5, 6-0) team that will have revenge on its mind.

Marc Spicijaric doesn’t have a short enough memory to forget what happened in Tulsa, Okla., last May.

Almost four and a half hours into a Sweet Sixteen match up with then-No. 2 Ohio State, Spicijaric found himself facing a third-set tiebreaker against Justin Kronauge that would determine which player’s team would move closer to the National Championship.

With a berth in the Elite Eight hanging in the balance, Kronauge’s 7-3 tie-breaker win handed the Illini a loss that head coach Brad Dancer later called “disappointing.”

It was the second time in three weeks Ohio State had sent then-No. 15 Illinois packing by a one-point margin, after stealing the Big Ten title with a late rally on April 27.

Following a Saturday visit from No. 61 Penn State, No. 3 Ohio State (23-1, 6-0 Big Ten) will try on Sunday to maintain its dominance against a No. 11 Illinois (17-5, 6-0) team that will have revenge on its mind.

“No matter what, we’re going to be ready on Sunday,” Spicijaric said after last weekend’s road victories against Iowa and Minnesota. “We know it’s going to be an absolute battle, one of the toughest matches we’ve had all year. I think we’re all ready for that, something we’ve been looking forward to since last year ended.”

A strong mid-week win against No. 14 Kentucky on Wednesday made the Illini feel right at home again after almost a month on the road. And with the top spot in the Big Ten on the line this weekend, freshman Dennis Nevolo knows the Illini found the right time to start firing on all cylinders.

“Our past few matches have been real grinds. Everyone’s been fighting real hard, and guys have been coming through in big matches,” Nevolo said. “(The Kentucky) match is a really good confidence builder for this weekend. I think at the beginning of the season, we had maybe not the greatest start, not the start we wanted, but now I feel our level is really improving, and everyone’s starting to play much better now.”

The Buckeyes field a lineup that has suffered just three combined losses in doubles and singles play against conference opponents this season, with the sole blemish on an otherwise perfect overall record coming courtesy of Tennessee at the NCAA Indoor Championships on Feb. 14.

But even with such a critical showdown looming, the Illini are careful not to look past Saturday’s date with Penn State (10-9, 3-3).

The best the team can do, according to Dancer, is to focus on the task at hand. He knows his team will be no slouch come Sunday, though.

“Penn State first. We’ll really have to have ourselves prepared and ready to go with Penn State and see if we can get through that match, and then from there it’s ‘How do we go forward?’ and get to 7-0 and be ready for Ohio State on Sunday,” Dancer said. “We know how good they are, and I think we’re pretty good ourselves.”