No. 73 Men's Tennis Travels to No. 11 Illini, No. 37 Wildcats
April 2, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. -
Coming off a weekend sweep of conference opponents last weekend, the 73rd-ranked Michigan State men's tennis team hits the road this weekend for a pair of matches in the state of Illinois. The Spartans (8-10, 2-3 Big Ten) will square off with No. 11 Illinois on Friday at 4 p.m. ET at the Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana, Ill. On Sunday, MSU will play No. 37 Northwestern at 1 p.m. ET at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center or the Combe Indoor Tennis Center in Evanston, Ill. The weekend's matches will be held outside, should the weather rise above 50 degrees.
In the Rankings
MSU began the season ranked No. 47.
On March 30, MSU took down its second consecutive ranked opponent, beating No. 71 Iowa, 5-2. MSU was able to win the doubles point behind the tandem of junior left-handers Gijs Linders and Harry Jadun on court two winning in a tiebreaker, 8-7(3). In singles, MSU claimed four of the six matches, winning on the top three courts and on court six. Senior Drew Lied, Mullane, and freshman Brett Forman all won on courts one, two, and three, respectively, and did so in straight sets. Jadun won his match on court six in straight sets as well.
Not only did the Spartans defeat their first two ranked opponents in back-to-back fashion last weekend, but they also did it without the services of senior co-captain and two-time All-Big Ten player Aaron Pfister. Pfister went down with an injury earlier in the week in practice and was unavailable last weekend.
Heading into the matchup March 28, the Spartans were also on a three-match losing streak. With Pfister helping coach on the sidelines, MSU was able to snap its three-match skid and start a two-match streak in the positive direction with other players stepping up, something head coach Gene Orlando was particularly proud of.
"I give the guys a lot of credit," Orlando said. "They always bounce back, they're very resilient, they play with a lot of heart and keep on doing it. Last Sunday and Friday, we were able to pick up two quality wins without our two-time All-Big Ten player. I think it builds confidence and it gives those guys that haven't been playing a little more experience."
The two ranked wins last weekend and earning a national ranking this week are steps in the right direction toward making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history, but Orlando remains focused on taking the season one match at a time.
"We've still got the same philosophy, we're not trying to get ahead of ourselves," Orlando said. "We'll still take it one match at a time. We're excited to have opportunities against two quality teams and hopefully we can pull out a quality win and put ourselves back in there. Regardless of what happens, I think the guys really feel confident knowing we play well at home. We'll play our best on the road and see if we can steal one, and then steal two. We're taking it one day at a time and it starts with quality practices and building momentum into the weekend."
Notes from Nebraska and Iowa:
JP Remains Unbeaten
Mullane's five conference wins have all come against players whose teams are nationally ranked. He defeated Shaun Bernstein of then-No. 26 Michigan, Alex Fennell of then-No. 27 Penn State, then-No. 120 Herkko Pollanen of then-No. 2 Ohio State, Marc Herrmann of then-No. 58 Nebraska, and Juan Estenssoro of then-No. 71 Iowa.
Mullane's career conference record sits at 13-2 (.867) as he compiled an 8-2 mark as a freshman last season.
Big Ten Update
Brad Dancer is in his ninth season as head coach. Dancer is a 1993 graduate of MSU and competed under Coach Orlando, earning All-Big Ten recognition. He was also an assistant under Orlando from 1993-98.
In singles, the Illini are 67-34 (.663) overall and 18-10 (.643) in conference action. Illinois has three singles players nationally ranked. Jared Hiltzik comes in the highest at No. 9, Farris Gosea is No. 23, and Tim Kopinski rounds out the group at No. 42. Hiltzik and Gosea have split time on court one, with Hiltzik posting a 6-4 record and Gosea tallying a 6-1 record on court one. Court three, led primarily by Kopinski's eight wins, pace the team with 15 total wins.
In doubles, Illinois has three duos nationally ranked. Kopinski and Ross Guignon are ranked No. 3, Gosea and Alex Jesse are No. 59, and Jesse and Hiltzik are No. 77. Guignon and Kopinski are 11-2 on the top court.
In the teams' last meeting, April 7, 2013, in East Lansing, No. 28 Illinois outlasted No. 47 MSU, 4-3. Lied and Mullane are among the current Spartans who won singles matches that day.
In the last meeting in Champaign, Ill., April 7, 2012, Illinois defeated MSU 6-1.
In singles, Northwestern has two nationally ranked players: Raleigh Smith at No. 37 and Sam Shropshire at No. 113. Smith is 9-6 competing on the top singles court. Overall, the Wildcats are 66-36 (.647) in singles play, including a 16-12 (.571) mark in Big Ten play. Court six leads the team with 14 wins.
In doubles, the duo of Smith and Mihir Kumar are ranked No. 30 nationally and hold a 4-5 record. With the exception of that duo, the Wildcats have struggled in the alleys, tallying just a 23-27 (.460) overall mark and a 1-11 (.083) conference record.
In the teams' last meeting, April 6, 2013, No. 49 MSU upended No. 29 Northwestern, 5-2, in East Lansing. Pfister, Lied, Mullane, and Linders all earned singles wins for the Spartans.
In the last meeting in Evanston, Ill., MSU lost to Northwestern, 6-1, on April 6, 2012.
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