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 comes into the latest ITA poll being ranked No. 73. The Spartans are coming off two ranked wins last weekend, defeating No. 58 Nebraska and No. 71 Iowa. This is the first appearance for MSU in the rankings since dropping out on Feb. 25.
MSU began the season ranked No. 47.
In just their first of two weekends where they will host back-to-back home matches, the Spartans held serve on their home court and took down two conference, nationally ranked opponents last weekend. On March 28, MSU defeated No. 58 Nebraska, 4-3, and its first ranked opponent of the season. After winning the doubles point, MSU won three straight singles matches and jumped out to a 4-0 lead, clinching the match. Sophomore John Patrick Mullane, junior Gijs Linders and freshman Mac Roy all earned straight-set wins in singles on courts two, four and six, respectively.
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:
- MSU earned back-to-back ranked wins for the first time this season and the first time since 2013 when MSU knocked off No. 60 Purdue on March 31 in West Lafayette, Ind., and No. 29 Northwestern on April 6 in East Lansing.
- Sophomore John Patrick Mullane finished the weekend a perfect 4-0 in singles and doubles combined. Mullane improved his Big Ten record in singles play to 5-0. For his career, Mullane has a 13-2 mark in conference play.
- Winning the doubles point against Nebraska and Iowa marked the eighth and ninth times this season MSU has won the initial point. MSU is 8-1 when claiming the doubles point.
- MSU improved to 8-1 at home this season. The lone loss of the season came at the hands of No. 2 Ohio State.
- The doubles tandem of Lied and Mullane on court one held serve in both matches over the weekend and were not broken a single time.
- MSU won all three of its singles matches on the top three courts, marking the seventh time this season MSU has done so.
JP Remains Unbeaten
Named one of the team's "fiercest competitors" by Coach Orlando, sophomore John Patrick Mullane improved his conference record to 5-0 this season. Mullane stepped in and played in the No. 2 singles position, filling in for the injured Pfister. Playing up a position, a position he had never played before, made no difference to Mullane as he won both his singles matches over the weekend, not dropping a set.
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
With a 2-3 conference record, MSU is currently in seventh place. No. 1 Ohio State leads the conference at 6-0. The Big Ten currently features 11 of its 12 teams nationally ranked. Ohio State, Illinois, and Penn State are the top three, coming in at No. 1, 11, and 24, respectively.
The Fighting Illini enter Friday's contest boasting a national ranking of 11th and an overall record of 13-7. The Illini are also tied for fourth place in the Big Ten with a 3-2 mark. Illinois is also a perfect 7-0 at home this season. Illinois' Big Ten wins have come against Northwestern, Purdue, and Indiana.
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.
The Wildcats are currently ranked No. 37 nationally, with a 12-9 overall record. Northwestern is tied for last in the conference with a 1-4 Big Ten record. Northwestern has lost its last five of seven matches and will face No. 46 Michigan on Friday in Evanston, Ill. Arvid Swan is in his seventh season as Wildcats head coach.
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.
MSU stays on the road next weekend as it travels to No. 70 Wisconsin on April 11 and No. 51 Minnesota on April 13.