CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The #15 Illinois men's tennis team returns to Champaign-Urbana for a three game home stand starting with an exciting pair of matches slated for this Sunday and Monday against the top two teams in the nation. First, the Illini square off with #1 Virginia on March 17 at 12 p.m. CT at Atkins Tennis Center, followed by a match vs. #2 USC on March 18 at 3 p.m. CT.
The 2013 edition of the Illini are off to 7-4 start with a 2-0 record in Big Ten play. The Orange and Blue have won five of their past seven games that included upsets vs #5 Duke and #7 Kentucky and two shutouts vs. Iowa and Illinois State. Illinois is currently 3-3 vs Top-25 foes this season and 4-3 when playing at home.
The Fighting Illini are just 2-9 against Virginia all-time as the Cavaliers currently enjoy a seven match win streak against the Orange and Blue. The two squads last met on May 19, 2011, when Virginia won 4-0 at the NCAA Championships. Yet, interesting to note, in just Brad Dancer's second match as head coach at Illinois, his Illini defeated #1 Virginia 5-2 on Jan. 29, 2006.
Illinois also trails in the overall series against USC, 3-5. The two teams last crossed paths at the NCAA Championships last year where the Trojans won 4-0. Dancer's 2006 squad also produced the last win against USC, earning the 6-1 victory at home on March 16.
SCOUTING THE OPPONENT
Virginia rolls into Champaign-Urbana with an undefeated 9-0 record, including a 3-0 road mark. The Cavaliers won their fifth straight ITA National Team Indoor Championship in February, beating ranked opponents such as Duke, Ohio State and USC. In March, Virginia has picked up two more victories over Top-15 opponents, knocking off No. 5 Oklahoma 6-1 and No. 11 Texas A&M 6-1.
Meanwhile, USC enters Monday's match with a 14-2 overall record, with playing just one match on the road so far (1-0). The Trojans have recorded four shutouts in 2013, including over No. 13 California and No. 15 Texas A&M. In two of their previous three matches, USC has faced No. 1 Virginia and No. 3 UCLA, as they found the loss column in both.
HISTORY VS TOP-2
The Illinois men's tennis team has played the top-2 teams in the nation a combined 21 times in the program's history. The Illini are 2-8 all-time vs. teams ranked 2nd, with the last win occurring vs. Ohio State in 2007. Illinois holds a slightly better mark against No. 1 teams as they are 3-8 all-time, including wins over No. 1 Stanford in 1999 and No. 1 Georgia in 2002. Also to note, the Illini have faced a No. 1 Virginia squad five times, as they look for their first upset win over them since Dancer's 2006 team.
BIG TEN TENNIS ATHLETE OF THE WEEK
Two months into the competition slate of 2013 and the Fighting Illini can successfully claim they have had two players honored as Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week. First up was Tim Kopinski on Feb. 13. The award is Kopinski's first in his career and the first since alum Dennis Nevolo collected his 8th weekly Big Ten honor on April 3, 2012. The sophomore earned the honor after clinching the match against #7 Kentucky.
Then on March 6, freshman Jared Hiltzik won his first collegiate award. Hiltzik helped spur the Illini to a 3-1 record over a five day span, which included a 2-0 start in Big Ten play. Hiltzik went 3-0 in singles play which included ranked victories over No. 120 Spencer Wolf and No. 97 Greg Andrews.
After a 3-1 week propelled the Illini to a season high ranking at No. 13, the next week off dropped Illinois two spots to No. 15. In the newly released singles rankings, Jared Hiltzik finds himself in the No. 40 spot, coming off of his Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week accomplishment. Also holding onto a singles ranking is Ross Guignon, who checks in at No. 108. However, Guignon wasn't done there, as the sophomore along with his partner Tim Kopinski landed the No. 36 spot in the latest doubles rankings. The #1 doubles tandem for the Illini are currently enjoying a five match win streak.
If need be, #1 Virginia can throw six ITA ranked singles competitors at the Fighting Illini on Sunday, starting with the No. 1 player in the nation in Alex Domijan and No. 5 Jarmere Jenkins, as they both have compiled 20+ wins this season. Following suit are No. 12 Mac Styslinger, No. 22 Ryan Shane, No. 70 Harrison Richmond and No. 81 Mitchell Frank.
Virginia can also boast that all three doubles pairs are ranked in the Top-30 in the latest ITA rankings. Jarmere Jenkins and Mac Styslinger are 11-3 as a duo and for that they are ranked No. 2. Next are Harrison Richmond and Alex Domijan at No. 7, as they are 17-4 on the year. Finally, the 14-3 pairing of Justin Shane and Julen Uriguen rank No. 27.
#2 USC will have plenty of options for Monday's matchup with Illinois as eight of their singles competitors are ranked. The 11-2 Emilio Gomez is ranked No. 2 followed by the 7-3 Ray Sarmiento at No. 9. Rounding out the ranked players for USC is No. 23 Roberto Quiroz, No. 61 Eric Johnson, No. 65 Yannick Hanfmann, No. 87 Max De Vroome, No. 90 Jonny Wang and No. 93 Michael Grant.
USC will also bring two ranked doubles teams to the table on Monday. First, are No. 26 Ray Sarmiento and Yannick Hanfmann who are 7-2 in the number one doubles position. Then, the 5-3 pairing of Emilio Gomez and Eric Johnson are tabbed at No. 71.
After the Illini wrap up their final non-conference games of the regular season this weekend, the Orange and Blue return to Big Ten action March 23 vs. Nebraska at 3 p.m. at the Atkins Tennis Center.