April 22, 1997

Spartans Host 88th Annual Big Ten Championships

What: BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
When: Thurs.-Sun., April 24-27
Where: MSU Outdoor Courts 9 a.m./1 p.m.

OVERALL RECORD: 7-14
BIG TEN RECORD: 3-7
REGION IV RECORD: 6-7

HOST WITH THE MOST: Michigan State will play host to the 88th annual Big Ten Championship this Thursday, April 24 through Sunday, April 27. It will be the fourth time MSU hosted this event, the last time in 1969, but the first time the conference championship will be played on the new outdoor courts located behind the Duffy Daugherty Football Building. MSU tested the new courts this past weekend with matches against Wisconsin (L, 5-2) and Northwestern (L, 6-1). The Spartans hosted last season's Big Ten Singles Championships. Matches begin at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day and will be moved to the MSU Indoor Tennis Facility in the event of inclement weather.

HISTORY LESSON: It wasn't until the 1985 season that the Big Ten Conference adopted a dual meet championship format. Prior to that, beginning in 1933, the conference champion was determined by a points system, and between the early years of 1910-1933 the championship was awarded to the team which swept both singles and doubles titles. If the titles were split, both teams were awarded a co-championship.

HOST WITH THE MOST II: Northwestern has hosted the Big Ten Championship 22 times, the most out of any Big Ten school. Wisconsin follows at a distant second, housing seven. West Lafayette, Ind., was the site of last season's championship, marking the third time Purdue hosted this event.

Besides hosting the tourney the most times, Northwestern leads all Big Ten teams in winning the title six times on home turf, starting with the 1934 championship. Ironically, Michigan has won the title all four times Michigan State has been the host.

MSU AND THE BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIPS: The Spartans have only been to the title platform on two occasions, in 1951 and 1967, under the leadership of Harris Beeman and Stan Drobac, respectively. In the Gene Orlando era MSU has placed as high as fourth (1995) and as low as 10th (1994). This season Michigan State enters the championship as the ninth seed, facing 10th-seeded Ohio State, one of the three Big Ten teams it has beaten this season.

HAIL TO THE VICTORS: The 1996 reigning champion Michigan Wolverines lead all Big Ten schools in title triumphs with 36. This season has not been as kind to the Wolverines, who finished with an 8-11 overall record after losing two 1996 All-Big Ten players, including the Big Ten Player of the Year, Peter Pusztai. They are seeded No. 4 with a 6-4 regular-season conference finish and face the No. 5 Indiana Hoosiers (14-8 overall, 6-4 Big Ten) Friday morning at 9 a.m. The winner of that contest has the probability of facing regular-season conference champion Northwestern, which posted a 10-0 Big Ten mark. Northwestern will play the winner of Thursday's preliminary round.

FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING: Eight of the 11 Big Ten teams have been crowned champion at least once. Wisconsin, Purdue and Penn State each have yet to win a Big Ten title, with PSU entering the league in 1992. Wisconsin placed 10th last season, while Purdue was sixth and Penn State was eighth. The Boilermakers, however, have made an outstanding run this year behind 1996 Big Ten Coach of the Year Tim Madden. PU finished 1997 with a 16-5 overall mark and 8-2 conference slate, good for a No. 2 seed in the championship, facing four-time Big Ten champion Minnesota in the first round. The Badgers are the eighth seed, while the Nittany Lions are the sixth seed.

RETURN TO ACTION: This season's Big Ten Championship will feature an array of All-Big Ten returnees from 1996. Six different teams each sport at least one all-league honoree, with Tom Derouin (Iowa), Arvid Swan (Michigan), Ben Gabler and Lars Hjarrand (Minnesota), Alex Witt (Northwestern), Michael Carter (Penn State) and Derek Myers (Purdue) all returning. Four other 1996 All-Big players graduated, while another transferred.

HONORING FORMER FROSH: Three Big Ten Freshman of the Year award winners will be on hand to lead their teams. Lars Hjarrand, the 1994 recipient, will play at No. 1 singles for Minnesota, Derek Pope, the 1995 winner, will play at No. 1 singles for Ohio State, while last season's winner, Marc Silva, will be in the No. 2 singles position for Northwestern. This year's first-year honoree will be announced Thursday, April 24, at the Big Ten banquet. Illinois' Cary Franklin is the best bet as the freshman is the highest nationally ranked Big Ten player at No. 48. (more)

AMONG THE RANKS: As of the last ITA Collegiate Tennis Ranking (April 15), six of the 11 Big Ten teams ranked among the nation's top 75. Leading the pack is Illinois at No. 18, followed by Northwestern at No. 26. Also ranked are Indiana (47th), Michigan (50th), Michigan State (60th) and Minnesota (62nd). Illinois has been ranked among the top 25 in all regular-season rankings, and the nation's fall rankings slated the Illini at 33rd.

RANKING THE PLAYERS: Five Big Ten singles players are enlisted with the nation's top 100 according to the April 15th spring rankings, all of whom hail from either Northwestern or Illinois. The Illini's Cary Franklin leads at No. 48, followed by Wildcats Marc Silva (65th) and Alex Witt (67th) and Illinois' Gavin Sontag (71st) and Jerry Turek (72nd). Illinois also boasts the only doubles team to be ranked in the top 50 nationally. Turek and partner Brady Blain, the 1996 Rolex Regional Tennis Championship doubles winners, are right in the middle of the pack at No. 25.

BREAKING DOWN THE 1997 CHAMPIONSHIP: Although Michigan is the returning Big Ten champ, the Wolverines have several strong challengers. Northwestern (15-5), with a top 30 ranking and perfect conference record (10-0), is the leading candidate with a No. 1 seeding. NU's flawless record is its first since the 1990 season when it went 9-0 in the conference and won the title behind Todd Martin. The Wildcats are loaded with a one-two punch at No. 1 and 2 singles in All-Big Ten returnee Alex Witt and last year's Freshman of the Year Marc Silva, both nationally ranked. Marc Bengtsson (No. 4) and Doug Bohaboy (No. 5) have been tops as well in the conference posting 7-2 and 8-1 marks, respectively. The 'Cats will play the winner of Thursday's preliminary play-in, which involves Wisconsin (10-10, 3-7 Big Ten), Iowa (7-13, 1-9), Michigan State and Ohio State (9-16, 2-8). If Northwestern advances, it would be challenged by either Michigan or Indiana (14-8, 6-4) in the semifinals. Illinois (15-5, 7-3 Big Ten) is another conference favorite with a tough arsenal both in singles and doubles. Jerry Turek and Brady Blain (25th nationally) will be a force at No. 1 doubles, while Illinois also sports six players with 20-plus wins. Gavin Sontag carries a 29-15 record, Turek is 31-10, Cary Franklin holds a 28-7 record, Oliver Freelove is 25-13, while Jeff Laski is 21-7 and Jakub Teply is 22-19. Indiana has a shot with Kevin Gabel (16-8) at No. 1 singles and Andrew Held (26-11) and Anton Klaric (26-11) lifting the team up as well. Indiana will face Michigan, which is powered by David Paradzik, Matt Wright and Arvid Swan, in the first round. The sleeper in the conference is Purdue, which quietly muscled its way to a 16-5 overall and 8-2 conference record, earning the Boilermakers a No. 2 seed. PU has been left out of the recent national rankings both as a team and individually, but still carry one of the region's best doubles teams in Cris James and Derek Myers. The pair fell to Turek and Blain this fall in the Rolex finals, but has defeated every doubles team they have faced in the Big Ten, including the Illini duo, 9-8, on April 16. Jamie Gordon, this fall's Rolex Regional Championships singles winner, carries a 6-4 Big Ten record for Purdue and Greg Wessenberg, after dropping his first two Big Ten matches, has gone on an 8-0 tear to improve his regular season record to 8-2.

SEEDINGS:
Thursday: 9 a.m.    No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 11 Iowa
                    No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Ohio State
Friday: 9 a.m.      No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 3 Illinois
                    No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 2 Purdue
Friday: 1 p.m.      No. 1 Northwestern vs. winner of Thursday's play-in
                    No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 5 Indiana
     

SPARTAN PREVIEW: Michigan State enters this weekend after finishing the regular season with a 7-15 overall record and a ninth-place 3-7 Big Ten mark. The Spartans are led by sophomores Trey Eubanks (Louisville, Ky.) and Mark Jacobson (Roswell, Ga.), junior Ben Hetzler (Lund, Sweden) and freshman Ivica Primorac (Mostar, Bosnia). Eubanks has posted his second-straight 20-win season with a 26-11 record, one win shy of Alberto Brause's performance last season. He is tied with Primorac for the team's best Big Ten mark at 7-3. Primorac has been a quiet hero by posting a 17-14 overall record including winning his last two Big Ten matches, the only Spartan to boast such a feat last weekend. Hetzler holds the next-best conference record at 4-4, including his second-best career overall mark of 17-14. Jacobson has the team's second-best overall mark at 19-17, but has struggled with a 2-7 Big Ten record.

THURSDAY'S TANGLE: The Spartans will kick off this year's tournament on Thursday, April 24, with a 9 a.m. match against No. 10 Ohio State. Earlier in the season, MSU defeated the Buckeyes, 5-2, at home.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Last season the Wolverines took the Big Ten title as Illinois halted Minnesota's quest for a fifth-straight Big Ten crown. Michigan began the weekend as the No. 1 seed and knocked off Ohio State and Northwestern before beating Illinois, 5-2, in the finals. MSU, following its quarterfinal loss to the Gopers, beat Penn State, 4-3, and host Purdue, 4-1, for a fifth-place finish.