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Hawkeye tennis set to take on Fighting Illini

BY DOMINICK WHITE | MARCH 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Tonight’s dual with Illinois marks the beginning of the Big Ten season. Iowa will take on its second ranked opponent in as many matches — Illinois goes into tonight’s dual ranked 17th in the country.

After falling to the No. 27 Drake Bulldogs on Wednesday evening, the Hawkeyes will be on the road for the first time this season. However, being the visitors on tonight won’t faze the Hawkeyes.

“We just have to go out there and play our own game,” Iowa junior Michael Swank said. “The mentality going into a road meet isn’t much different. We know that we have to hit our shots and make plays.”

The Fighting Illini have been on a hot streak over the past month. On Feb. 1, Illinois took down Duke— the No. 5 team in the nation at the time. On Feb. 9, the Fighting Illini pulled off another impressive win against No. 7 Kentucky. Regardless of Illinois’ early season success, the Hawkeyes know they have enough to pull off the upset.

“The fact that we played a close match against Drake shows us that we can handle Illinois,” Iowa junior Jonas Dierckx said. “It gives us confidence and belief that we can beat them.”

Illinois has a deep team that features a lot of young talent. The Illini figure to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten this season despite an early 4-3 record. All of Illinois’ losses have come against teams ranked in the top 20.

Illinois has a trio of ranked underclassmen. Jared Hiltzik is one of the best freshmen in college tennis. At the moment, he is ranked No. 37 in the country. He is 5-1 so far this season, and he’s beaten three ranked opponents. Sophomore Ross Guignon is listed as the No. 118 ranked player in the country. He has a 3-1 singles record this year, and he plays alongside Tim Kopinski in doubles.

Kopinski is another one of Illinois’s touted freshmen. He is ranked No. 113, and he is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week. Even though he’s a freshman, he doesn’t shy away from the big stage. On Feb. 9, he won the meet-clinching match against Kentucky to secure an upset victory for the Illini.

Getting off to a strong start tonight will be crucial for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has been successful in doubles play early on, while Illinois has faltered. Iowa has won seven out of eight doubles points this year — Illinois has lost six of seven. The Hawkeyes have an opportunity to jump out to an early lead tonight.

“Illinois is a perennial power in the Big Ten,” Iowa head coach Steve Houghton said. “We’ve played them tough a couple of times over the years. Even with the loss on Wednesday, I think our team is starting to believe that they can compete with really good teams.”


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