Illini men’s tennis looks to continue winning streak

Illinois’ Farris Gosea hits the ball during the match against No. 8 Texas at Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. The Illini won 4-3.

By Brett Lerner

The No. 6 Illinois men’s tennis team is gearing up for its biggest, busiest weekend of the season with a home doubleheader Friday before competing in Indian Wells, Calif., on Sunday morning. 

Coming off two victories at home over Purdue and Detroit Mercy, the Illini will face three top-50 teams: No. 47 USF, No. 42 Pepperdine and No. 12 Baylor. 

“All our guys work on their fitness year round, so they’re ready to go for something like this if we were to play today,” associate head coach Marcos Asse said. 

The Illini will also return Jared Hiltzik, who missed over three weeks with a wrist injury. As the No. 7 singles player, he has been the Illini’s top gun since joining the program last year. But even after time out, he said he is ready to go this weekend and doesn’t feel that his game will be rusty.

“I’ve done a lot of legs, a lot of running, just staying conditioned, so I feel just as good out there as I did before,” Hiltzik said. 

Hiltzik will likely play the top singles slot as he did before the injury, but his return also helps the Illini in other ways. Sophomore Brian Page has also been injured, wearing a cast on his left arm since last week. Without those two guys, the Illinois coaching staff hasn’t had the ability to change around its eight-man roster. Every player was playing both doubles and singles in every match without Hiltzik and Page.

In Hiltzik and Page’s absences, though, junior Farris Gosea has stepped up, being named Big Ten Player of the Week for the second consecutive week after last weekend’s performance. Gosea has been playing in the top singles position in place of Hiltzik. He has compiled a 10-2 singles record this season and has won his last four matches. He has also climbed all the way to No. 17 in singles, a new career best.

“It’s really nice for me to get (player of the week) two weeks in a row,” he said. “Again it just shows all the hard work I’ve been putting in has paid off, and my results are coming together.”

Illinois can also be excited about national exposure they’ll be getting this weekend. The Illini were selected by ESPN to host a match as part of its College Gameday series. They will host Pepperdine on Friday night for a match televised on ESPN3. The matchup with Pepperdine is a rematch from earlier this season, a match in which the Illini swept the Waves, 4-0. 

“(The publicity) is great for Illinois. It’s great for us to showcase our facilities and show everyone we have the best facilities in the country,” Asse said. “The other huge thing, which is much bigger than Illini tennis, is just getting college tennis broadcasted in general.” 

Brett can be reached at [email protected] and @blerner10