URBANA, Ill. - The No. 19 Fighting Illini men's tennis team will wrap up their home stand Saturday, Feb. 9, when they host No. 7 Kentucky. The contest kicks off at 6 p.m. CT and marks the fifth straight match in which Illinois has faced a top-25 opponent.
The Illini and Wildcats have squared off a total of 26 times as the squads are dead even in the overall series with 13 wins each. Illinois head coach Brad Dancer has posted a 5-3 record against Kentucky since taking the reigns of the program. However, the Illini have lost their last three of four to the Wildcats as they look to regain the momentum along with obtaining the overall series lead.
Scouting the Opponent
The 3-3 Illini will once again square off with an opponent who has yet to taste defeat as Kentucky enters the matchup at 6-0. The Wildcats started their season with 7-0 wins over Northern Kentucky and Morehead State. Then the Wildcats traveled to Bloomington for their lone road game of 2013 thus far, where they downed fellow Big Ten team Indiana 5-2. Kentucky has also bested Michigan State, Texas and Oklahoma. Thus, Kentucky has defeated four teams ranked in the top-45 of the ITA standings.
In addition, the Illini will have to tame junior Tom Jomby, who enters Saturday's match as the reigning Southeastern Conference's Player of the Week after defeating No. 36 Guillermo Alcorta. Jomby is 10-1 on the season and has recorded 6-0 wins in three of his past five opening sets.
The Illinois marketing department is encouraging all University of Illinois students to come out to the match Saturday and make their voices heard against No. 7 Kentucky. Any student that shows up for the match will receive free Buffalo Wild Wings.
The 2013 Illini started the season ranked 16th in the nation by ITA. After a drop to No. 25, the Illini have rebounded and jumped six spots to No. 19 after ousting No. 5 Duke, 4-3. Freshman Jared Hiltzik is the lone nationally ranked singles competitor, checking in at No. 114. Hiltzik, along with senior Stephen Hoh and sophomore Tim Kopinski were included 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.
Tom Jomby is Kentucky's lead man as he is ranked 15th in the country in singles competition. Also ranked are No. 94 Anthony Rossi and No. 97 Juan Pablo Murra. Jomby, along with Kevin Lai, have landed the No. 35 spot in doubles play.
Upsetting Duke and Milestone Reached
The Orange and Blue upset No. 5 Duke, 4-3, last Friday night in front of their home crowd at the Atkins Tennis Center. With the score tied 3-3, the decisive point came down to the No. 2 singles matchup between No. 114 Jared Hiltzik and No. 23 Fred Saba. After claiming a close 7-6 (7) victory in the first set, Hiltzik battled back after a 4-6 second set loss to defeat Saba 6-3 in the third, claiming the Illini team victory. For his heroic efforts, Hiltzik was named Illini of the Week. Also winning points for the Illini were Ross Guignon, Tim Kopinski and Bruno Abdelnour.
The Illini defeated a top-5 opponent for the first time since claiming the Big Ten Tournament Title by defeating No. 3 Ohio State on April 29, 2012. In addition, head coach Brad Dancer obtained his fifth top-5 win at Illinois while also reaching the milestone of 150 career wins.
The Illini will have just under a month off before they resume play March 1 when they kick off Big Ten play against Iowa at the Atkins Tennis Center at 6 p.m. CT. They conclude the weekend by welcoming Northwestern on March 2 at 6 p.m. CT as well.