Tennis Hawks embrace time off in between matches

BY BEN ROSS | MARCH 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men’s tennis team will have its hands full when it faces No. 4 Illinois (6-4) at noon on March 6 in the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex. Last season, Iowa (4-3) went 0-2 against the Fighting Illini, the most recent loss coming in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Bloomington, Ind.

Illinois has had Iowa’s number in recent years, winning the last eight matchups against the Black and Gold. The 73rd-ranked Hawkeyes will have had 11 days to cool off since their last match, against Drake, after a stretch in which they won three matches over the course of six days, all coming at home. But junior No. 1 singles player Marc Bruche insisted the team hasn’t lost any momentum during the rest period.

“Everyone is starting to get into rhythm,” he said. “We improve from day-to-day by going out and practicing. We practice every day and have morning workouts; the rhythm gets better.”

While people may think the home squad is facing overwhelming odds against the fourth-ranked Illini, Bruche said being the underdog in such matches has some advantages.

“We will have to play unbelievably; Illinois is a top-10 team,” he said. “We will get our chances, but everyone will have to be perfect.

“We’re the underdogs. If I were Illinois, I wouldn’t even think of Iowa — they will underestimate us.”

The last time the Hawkeyes had such a long grace period in between matches was last season, when the squad played Denver University on March 7 and competed against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas 10 days later. Both contests resulted in losses. Head coach Steve Houghton has confidence in his team, even saying that the scheduling was done on purpose.

“[The time off] came at a really good time,” he said. “It wasn’t an accident; we scheduled it that way. It has allowed us to take a step a back and work on things that need to be polished up.”

The Hawkeyes will have to be better than polished if they wish to be successful this weekend. Illinois has three ranked singles players, including a two-time All-Big Ten player in No. 9 Dennis Nevolo, who is also ranked No. 16 overall in doubles along with partner Abe Souza.

Senior Austen Kauss said the right mentality and an aggressive playing style can lead to a victory in the border battle.

“We’ll continue to be really aggressive and confident,” he said. “We have kept a positive outlook regarding the match, and if we keep the same intensity we have had in past matches and raise that level individually … we’re more successful when fully engaged.”

Houghton agreed that his players have gotten tougher, and the mentality that the team will go into the match with will play a large part in the outcome. He noted Illinois’ depth in its singles lineup but didn’t discount its doubles play, either.

“They’re always good at doubles, that’s their trademark. But we can’t make assumptions,” he said. “We need to focus completely on the match and focus on every point. The doubles point will be really important. If we can win that, it will be a big boost to the confidence level of the team.”

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