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Men’s tennis opens Big Ten season against Michigan State

BY SETH ROBERTS | MARCH 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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Everything the Iowa men’s tennis team has done this season — the eight wins, trips to Texas and California, and countless hours of conditioning — comes down to Saturday.

The No. 66 Hawkeyes (8-3) will travel to East Lansing, Mich., to open Big Ten play against unranked Michigan State (11-5, 0-1 Big Ten).

“Everything has been done with this in mind,” Iowa head coach Steve Houghton said. “We’ve done enough conditioning that I think the guys can go out there and play as long as it takes to get the job done.”

Although Michigan State is the only team from the Big Ten without a national ranking, the Spartans’ 11 wins indicate how dangerous they can be. Houghton said his players are not looking past the Spartans, despite Iowa’s 31-25 all-time advantage.

“Rankings don’t mean much at this point,” the coach said. “They’re a good, scrappy team, and I have great respect for them. They’re tough.”

Michigan State is anchored by its strong doubles play. The Spartans posted a .711 win percentage in nonconference doubles, a stretch in which No. 3 duo Denis Bogatov and Clark Richardson went 10-1.

Iowa will likely counter with senior Reinoud Haal and freshman Garret Dunn, who have won three-consecutive matches and are 5-2 in the No. 3 slot this year.

“We have to focus on what we can control ourselves,” Haal said. “Garret and I both have good serves, so if we focus on serving and returning, and if we keep moving, I think we’ll be hard to beat.”

Houghton said winning doubles points will be especially important in conference play, when it is “hard to win four or more singles matches” because of the skill levels of the teams.

Many of the marquee matchups in the next few weeks will take place in singles, beginning with Haal (8-4 in singles matches) squaring off against Bogatov (10-3) at No. 3.

Perhaps the most intriguing singles matchup on Saturday will be Iowa junior Austen Kauss (6-3) taking on Michigan State’s Clark Richardson (5-1) in the No. 6 position. Kauss is coming off an impressive 6-0, 6-0 victory against Pacific on March 20, but he said he is not dwelling on his last win.

“You can’t really hold on to that for too long,” he said. “I’ll come in with some confidence, but we all have to focus on the matches and the small things that we have control over. Anything can happen in the Big Ten, and it’s always going to be a dogfight.”

Because of the Big Ten’s strength, a top-half finish in the conference essentially guarantees a team a spot in the NCAA championships. Houghton said he is optimistic about Iowa’s chances, particularly if his team play up to its abilities in doubles.

“We’re prepared to the point where we won’t be overconfident when playing teams with worse records and not awed by strong teams,” Houghton said. “I think we can be one of the good teams [in the conference].”


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