Tennis team tops Ball State
URBANA — During some spotty moments in doubles play of the Illinois men’s tennis team’s NCAA regional opener against Ball State on Friday at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex, the home fans’ energy helped will the Illini to the two victories required to earn the match’s opening point.
“Give ’em the heat,” they yelled at the No. 1 duo of Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon.
“Yeah, Geezy,” they yelled after a Guignon winner.
“The Polish Punisher!” was screamed after a Kopinski ace.
And, they spoke words of encouragement after unforced errors.
“It’s OK. I still like you, Tim.”
A 30-minute lightning delay immediately after the doubles matches wrapped up might have taken the energy out of the packed house at Khan. Or maybe it was the 12th-ranked Illini themselves who subdued the crowd with their workmanlike performance in the singles matches, jumping to large leads on all six courts en route to a 4-0 win against the Cardinals, moving to 12-0 at home and advancing to Saturday’s regional final against Memphis.
Guignon on Court 6 and Kopinski on Court 3 made quick work of their opponents. Illini No. 1 Jared Hiltzik provided some oohs and aahs with nifty running winners down the line that left opponent Ray Leonard shaking his head. The match provided some excitement, drawing more than polite applause.
“Hiltzik, he’s getting his moxie back a little bit,” Illini coach Brad Dancer said. “He had some great passing shots on the run; that’s his M.O. He gets in peoples’ minds with that, so I was really pleased to see him staying in points and not checking out at all. When he does that, that’s when he wears on people over time.”
A win Saturday against Memphis would put the Illini in the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in Dancer’s nine seasons in charge of the program. They failed to make it last season, a fact that’s been brought up often this year.
“I think, if anything, we’re trying to get it off our mind because it’s such a motivation, and everybody wants it so badly,” Guignon said. “We took care of business (Friday), so hopefully we can do that (Saturday).”
The Tigers, 4-3 winners against Drake on Friday at Khan, should provide more resistance for the Illini than Ball State, meaning Dancer’s squad will need to take care of business on the court and get a little lift from their friends in the stands.
“When that crowd gets going — it wasn’t even really going (Friday) — we’ve got to talk to our guys, we’ve got to invigorate them to really believe, and when we do that ... it gets loud out here and makes the atmosphere we want to have out here,” Dancer said.
Said Guignon: “I think it’s 12-0 we are at home, and that’s due in large part to the people that come out to support us and create the atmosphere. The stat kind of shows for itself what’s going on here.”
Tigers win marathon. David O’Leary’s 7-5, 2-6, 6-0 win against Matt Frost on Court 4 ended a 3-hour, 55-minute match, giving No. 22 Memphis a win against Drake and the right to advance to Saturday’s regional final against the Illini.
“It was a hard-fought match. We knew it would be,” Memphis coach Paul Goebel said. “We lost to Drake earlier in the season in a real tight one, kind of like the one we just won here (Friday), and we were lucky enough to win (Friday).”
The Tigers, who also got singles wins from Connor Glennon and Joe Salisbury, are looking to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.
“It’s fun to come out on top in this. I think our experience paid off, being that this is the third straight year we’ve been in the NCAA tournament. Making the round of 16 last year and playing here on these same courts probably gave us a bit of an edge,” Goebel said. “There’s no easy wins; you work hard to get here. Everyone’s working and wants to win. I definitely don’t take it for granted, it’s very special. We’ll remember this one for a long time.”
Goebel knows his team will have its hands full with the Illini on Saturday.
“They’ve had an unbelievable year. Brad Dancer’s a great coach. He and his staff do an amazing job,” Goebel said. “They’re solid at every single position. We know it’s going to be a tough task, and we’re really looking forward to it.”