#16 Illinois Hosts ITA Kick-Off Weekend
URBANA, Ill. - The No. 16 Fighting Illini men's tennis team hosts No. 19 Tennesse, No. 18 North Carolina and No. 24 Tulsa in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. The event starts Friday at 2 p.m. CT between the Tarheels and the Golden Hurricane, followed by the Illini and Volunteers at 6 p.m. CT. Then on Saturday, the consolation teams square off for third place at 3 p.m. CT, followed by the site championship game at 7 p.m. CT.
ITA Kick-Off Format
This weekend marks the fifth annual ITA Kick-Off where 60 schools around the nation will be competing for the 15 vacant spots at the ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship, hosted next month in Washington. Atkins Center will be lively this weekend as Illinois was named one of the host sites and thus earning the one seed in the four team tournament. The foursome of Illinois, Tulsa, Tennessee and North Carolina has been named the toughest site of the Kick-Off Weekend as all four teams land inside the Top-25.
Illinois returns home to celebrate many things. First, the Illini went 2-0 last weekend, downing Toledo in an experimental match 83-42 and defeating Ball State by a score of 4-3. Second, the Orange and Blue will be playing their first match at home. Third, the Illini have a great opportunity to earn two solid victories and qualify for the ITA National Indoor Championship.
If the Orange and Blue want to make it to Washington, then they'll first have to change their luck against Tennessee. Up to this point, the Volunteers enjoy a 8-4 series advantage over Illinois. However, the last time these two met, the Illini emerged with a 4-1 victory.
Illinois and North Carolina have enjoyed seven close battles as the Illini trail the series 3-4. Meanwhile, the Illini have yet to taste defeat when it comes to Tulsa, as they lead 5-0 in that series.
Scouting the Opposition
Tennessee enters the weekend well prepared, already 7-0 on the young season, not losing a single set in the process. The Volunteers have beaten the likes of Oklahoma State, Belmont, Murray State and Eastern Kentucky. They are led by singles competitors Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese, who are ranked ninth and 40th respectively.
North Carolina opened their season last weekend with two victories. First, they defeated Wofford 7-0 then followed that with a 6-1 win over Gardner-Webb.
Finally, Tulsa arrives to Urbana 0-2 after facing two ranked teams to start the year. Tulsa first lost to No. 25 Washington 4-3, then they lost another hard fought 4-3 encounter, this time to No. 23 Texas.
After a 2-0 start, the Illinois men's tennis team remained in the No. 16 spot in the ITA team rankings. Freshman Jared Hiltzik, senior Stephen Hoh and sophomore Tim Kopinski were ranked in the ITA Midwest singles rankings, checking in at the No. 10, 11 and 12 spots respectively. In addition, Kopinski, along with sophomore Farris Gosea were ranked No. 56 in the ITA Men's National Doubles Rankings and second in the Midwest. The doubles team of Hiltzik and freshman Alex Jesse ranked in the Midwest as well, landing the No. 9 spot.
New Year, New Look
The Illini will have to fill the hole that was left by graduates Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich. Last year, Nevolo earned his second career All-America honor along with finishing his career tied for sixth in career singles (116) and combined wins (211) and ranked ninth in doubles victories (95). Nevolo, who reached a career high No. 2 in the national singles rankings, reached the round of 16 in both the NCAA singles and doubles championships. Illinois will turn to youth this year, welcoming back sophomore returnees Farris Gosea, Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon, while welcoming four freshmen to the fold in Jared Hiltzik, Brian Page, Alex Jesse and Julian Childers. Helping to guide the young team and provide veteran leadership this season are seniors Bruno Abdelnour and Stephen Hoh.
The Illini will stay put at the Atkins Center in Urbana, when they welcome back Tennessee along with Duke, for dual match action next weekend. Illinois first challenges Duke on Friday, Feb. 1, at 6 p.m. CT. Next, the Illini receive a rematch with the Volunteers on Saturday, Feb. 2, at 6 p.m. CT also.
Schedule of Play:
Fri, Jan 25- North Carolina vs. Tulsa 2:00 p.m.
Fri, Jan 25- Illinois vs. Tennessee 6:00 p.m.
Sat, Jan 26- Consolation Match 3:00 p.m.
Sat, Jan 26- Championship Match 7:00 p.m.