Illinois men’s tennis to finish regular season with two home matches

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

No. 10 Illinois will finish out their regular season this weekend with a two-game homestand, hosting Minnesota on Friday and Wisconsin on Sunday. Traditionally the last home match of the season is reserved for Senior Day. This match honors the seniors who have put four years of work into a program and is something that college teams have been doing for years.

There’s one small problem for Illinois though, they don’t have any seniors. The Illini roster is composed of four sophomores and four juniors. So, Illinois actually won’t have a Senior Day ceremony, and Sunday’s match will just be like any other for head coach Brad Dancer’s squad. 

“It’s goofy, you know, that’s never happened to me before in all my years of coaching. It feels like you always have at least some seniors,” Dancer said. 

Although the Illini don’t have any seniors to honor this weekend, the two matches will still be vital heading into the Big Ten tournament and NCAA Championships. Two wins over the weekend would lock Illinois into the second seed for the conference tournament, behind only No. 1 Ohio State. The wins would also be a great boost for Illinois’ resume, and could put them into a good position to potentially claim a host position for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. 

Along with the seeding concerns, the Illini want to use this weekend to gain momentum as they enter the postseason. 

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    Although increasing the level of play is the Illini’s focus going into the weekend, another issue they’re going to be keeping track of is their overall health. Last weekend’s matches marked the first time Dancer had the whole eight-man roster at his disposal in over six weeks. Brian Page finally had his cast removed from his left arm and was inserted into the lineup against Nebraska. No. 8 Jared Hiltzik is still working back to full strength after making his return to the Illinois lineup on March 28 at Penn State. 

    While Hiltzik and Page will use the weekend to get back into their groove heading into the postseason, No. 13 Farris Gosea is looking to rehab and get back to 100 percent. Gosea, the team’s win leader in singles, hasn’t missed any matches but is starting to feel the wear and tear of the busy regular season schedule Illinois has played. 

    “As of right now I’m definitely not feeling as good as I want to be. Coming off last weekend I’ve just got a sore shoulder, so I’ve got things to work on but hopefully by the end of the week I’ll be pretty healthy,” Gosea said. 

    The Illini will need their full arsenal, as No. 51 Minnesota and Wisconsin will  both be looking to end their season on a high note and take down one of the conference’s top teams. Especially Minnesota, a team that beat Illinois 4-3 last season. The Golden Gophers are led in singles by No. 39 Leandro Toledo, a big, bruising type of player who will be a tough match up for Hiltzik.

    “It should be fun tennis, good matches (in positions) one through six,” Associate head coach Marcos Asse said. 

    As the Illini look to close out their regular season on a high note at home, they won’t have much to reflect on because they don’t have any seniors. This just means they have even more to look forward to. 

    “Being ranked in the top-10 in the country with no seniors, it feels great knowing that everyone’s coming back next year,” Gosea said. “I think we’re all pretty excited about that.”  

    Brett can be reached at [email protected] and @Blerner10