Illini men’s tennis continues Big Ten success

The Illinois men’s tennis team completed its spring break with a 3-1 record over two weekends. 

The Illini kicked off the week with a doubleheader win over Indiana and Ball State on the road. Illinois then rolled into this past weekend, which was its toughest weekend of the Big Ten season.

The matchups with No. 23 Penn State and No. 2 Ohio State didn’t get any easier considering that the Illini were on the road for both matches. Illini battled to a 4-3 win over the Nittany Lions, but finished out the weekend with a 5-2 loss against the Buckeyes.

“We had a tremendous amount of momentum at a certain point in this dual, but we did not capitalize,” said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer. “Credit to Ohio State for staying very tough when we had them on the ropes.”

This weekend marked the long awaited return of the Illini’s top singles player, No. 9 Jared Hiltzik. Hiltzik had missed more than a month with a nagging wrist injury that he couldn’t seem to shake. Hiltzik lost his first two singles matches, losing in the top singles slot against Penn State, and was slid into the second singles position against Ohio State.

Hiltzik’s return to the lineup also gave Dancer the ability to make changes to the lineup and doubles pairings, which he hasn’t been able to do for the past month without both Hiltzik and Brian Page, who is still out with a hand injury. 

The Illini’s biggest bright spot of the week was Hiltzik’s new doubles partner, Farris Gosea. Gosea played in the top singles spot for the entirety of Hiltzik’s absence. Hiltzik got his biggest win of the season against No. 8 Peter Kobelt, Goesea’s highest ranked opponent of the year. The win against Ohio State was one of three on the week for Gosea.

Illinois also went 3-1 in terms of getting doubles points in its matches this week after not playing doubles two weeks ago while the Illini were playing a new format for three matches. The Illini’s top doubles pairing, No. 3 Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski went 3-0 on the week. They were also leading their match against No. 28 Russell Bader and Leonard Stakhovsky 8-7 (7-3), but went unfinished as Ohio State closed out the other two doubles matches first. 

The Illini schedule doesn’t get much easier moving forward, as they have a packed schedule upcoming. Illinois plays at No. 14 Kentucky on Wednesday for an irregular midweek match. The Illini will then host two more Big Ten matches over the weekend, against Michigan State and Michigan. 

“No question we can do a better job of preparing our team,” Dancer said. “We will get them ready for our next match.”

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