Men’s tennis heartbroken

BY BEN ROSS | MARCH 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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The No. 73 Hawkeye men’s tennis team dropped a close match to No. 4 Illinois on Sunday, 4-3, in the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex.

Iowa came out strong early in doubles in a border battle that has been heavily lopsided toward the Illini in recent years. The Hawkeyes were able to wrestle the doubles point away from Illinois in the beginning of the match, with Austen Kauss and Jonas Dierckx coming from behind to secure the win over Illinois’ Abe Souza and Roy Kalmanovich. The tandem of juniors Marc Bruche and Will Vasos followed suit shortly with a win over Stephen Hoh and Connor Roth.

Iowa put itself on the board again when senior Nikita Zotov won his match in straight sets over Kalmanovich. Sophomore Garret Dunn was the next Hawkeye to secure a point for the home squad when he defeated Bruno Abdelnour. However, Illinois, playing without the No. 9 singles player in the nation in Dennis Nevolo, secured the remaining matches to squash the hopes of the upset-minded Hawkeyes.

Iowa head coach Steve Houghton wasn’t disappointed with his team. He praised his players’ ability to step up to the challenge of a top team.

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“They weren’t at all intimidated,” he said. “It took a big leap to be playing with the No. 4 team in the country. I didn’t really know if our guys were up to the task, but that certainly didn’t seem to be the case.”

The match came down to Vasos versus Souza in a back-and-forth battle of stamina. Souza, ranked No. 65 nationally, as well as being an All-Big Ten athlete, was able to get the victory in three sets (7-5, 4-6, 6-4).

While the sting of losing may hurt right now, Dunn believes there are many positives the team can take out of the contest.

“It sucks we lost,” he said. “We found some things out we can improve on, our intensity is really good. I believe everyone has individual things he can work on, but this match was really good at gauging where we are in the Big Ten.”

The Black and Gold will travel to Florida for spring break in order to get used to outdoor play for the remainder of the season. Iowa will face the likes of Florida Atlantic (5-4), Southern Florida (4-2), and Central Florida (5-6).

Houghton, who has coached Hawkeye tennis for 30 years, can’t recall the last time his team played a top opponent so competitively, especially a top-five team.

“We’ve beaten some top-20 teams over the years,” he said. “I don’t think we have ever beaten a top-5 or -10 team, and obviously, this could have happened today, and this is as close as we’ve come that I can remember.

“Obviously, nobody is satisfied with losing, but this is a big step.”

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