April 26, 2006
Minnesota is set to host the 2006 edition of the Big Ten Men's Tennis Championship this weekend, Thursday, April 27 through Sunday, April 30. The postseason event will
take place at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis, Minn., and feature all 11 Conference schools.
Six schools will open the championship on Thursday, as No. 8 seed Wisconsin faces No. 9 Purdue at 9 a.m. followed by a Noon battle between No. 6 Penn State and No. 11 Iowa. Closing out opening day competition, No. 7 Northwestern takes on No. 10 Michigan State at 3 p.m. The top three seeds - No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Illinois, and
No. 3 Minnesota - all received first-round byes and will battle the winners of Thursday's matches on Friday. No. 4 Michigan will also face No. 5 Indiana on Friday at 10 a.m.
Regular season league champion Ohio State will look for its first Big Ten Championship title since 2001 as it enters the event with the school's first-ever top seed, while the defending champion Illinios enters the championship with a record of 20-5 overall, including a 9-1 mark in conference play. Additional conference squads ranked in the ITA top 75 are No. 38 Michigan, No. 41 Minnesota, No. 52 Penn State, No. 58 Northwestern and No. 59 Indiana.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Winners of eight of the last nine Big Ten crowns, the fifth-ranked Fighting Illini enter the 2006 Big Ten championship in an unfamiliar spot. The defending champions crafted a near-perfect 9-1 conference record but dropped their first regular season league match since 1997 in a 5-2 decision to Ohio State. The Illini, who return four from their 2005 title squad, rebounded after the loss to the Buckeyes' with seven-straight wins to finish the regular season at 20-5 overall and enter the championship ranked sixth in the nation.
Led by reigning Big Ten Athlete of the Year, senior Ryler DeHeart, the Illini lineup features four nationally ranked singles competitors. DeHeart, who took over the honors as Illinois' All-time winningest singles player, holds the No. 9 spot in the ITA rankings and is 20-3 in dual match play. Sophomore Kevin Anderson, ranked 23rd, leads the Big Ten at No. 2 singles with a 6-0 mark and owns a 15-2 mark on the season.
As effective as Illinos' singles cast is, the most telling of the Illini success is their doubles performances. The squad has is 20-0 when it claims the doubles point and the early lead this season - the five times Illinois' doubles' teams have erred have resulted in the units only losses.
With a bye in the first round of competition, Illinois will play the winner of No. 10 Michigan State versus No. 7 Northwestern at 2:00 p.m. on Friday. Illinois defeated both MSU and Iowa on the road during the regular season.
The Indiana Hoosiers again find themselves in the No. 4-versus-5-seed match for the second straight year. Now as the fifth seed, The Cream and Crimson hopes to avenge its former postseason fate after dropping a 4-3 decision to Northwestern as the fourth seed in last year's tournament. IU (16-9 overall, 5-5 Big Ten) finished tied for fifth in the conference standings with Penn State and Northwestern, but took the No. 5 seed by virtue of their combined nine points in the matches against the Nittany Lions and Wildcats.
No. 109 Dima Ishtuganov leads the Hoosiers' singles effort in the top spot with a 21-14 singles record on the season. The most consistent spot for the Hoosiers is No. 3 singles, where they have garnered a 19-6 ledger this season with Dara McLoughlin heading the effort. Senior Neil Kenner is making most of the end of his collegiate career, breaking through in No. 4 singles after switching from the No. 3 spot at the start of league play. He enters the championship with a nine-match win streak and a 7-2 conference mark. IU will have to rally its doubles squads in order to seriously make a run in this year's championship and improve on a 12-18 conference doubles record.
The Hoosiers will look requite a fresh loss to then-39th-ranked Michigan in their regular season finale on April 23. With five of the six singles matches coming down to a third set, the contest was decided in a tight three-set affair at the No. 6 position. IU junior Arnaud Roussel led 5-4 in the third set before Michigan's Scott Bruckmann was able to garner the momentum and pick up a 7-6 (0), 3-6, 7-5 victory to give the Wolverines a 4-3 team win.
The 11th-seeded Hawkeyes enter the championship with a 6-13 overall and 1-9 conference showing. Iowa will play the opening match of the tournament against sixth-seeded Penn State, with the winner set to take on third-seeded host Minnesota. The last time these two squads faced off this season, the Hawkeyes were able to reap their only Big Ten victory in a 5-2 decision over the Nittany Lions.
With only three seniors, head coach Steve Houghton's lineup has been anchored by two rising underclassmen in sophomore Bart van Monsjou and freshman Christian Bierich. The 6-3 van Monsjou took over the Hawkeyes' top singles spot where he assembled a 6-13 ledger, while the rookie went 5-9 in dual play at the No. 2 spot, competing in every Hawkeye contest this season. Bierich led the squad in conference wins with a 5-5 record. Another underclassman leading the way is J.P. Ritchie, who teams with senior Brett Taylor to comprise Iowa's No. 1 doubles team. The sophomore split time in the second and third singles spots but also contribute in singles and doubles to all 19 of the Hawkeyes' matches.
The fourth-seeded Michigan Wolverines hope to squeeze every bit of recuperation out of their opening round bye after closing out the season in an exacting five-hour battle with Indiana. The Wolverines (12-10, 6-4 Big Ten) advanced to the semifinals of last season's conference tournament before bowing out to Ohio State, 4-0. Should Michigan reprise its season finale win over Indiana in Friday's second round, the Wolverines could meet the Buckeyes again on day three of the championship.
Brian Hung and Matko Maravic fell just shy of their 20-win singles campaigns from 2005, but they teamed up another impressive season as the Wolverines' top doubles team. The tandem moved into the nation's top 10 with an 8-2 win over IU's pair of Ishtuganov and McLoughlin, tallying their 23rd win on the season. No. 39 Maravic also pilots the Wolverines' singles lineup, while Hung holds the No. 2 spot. Despite returning four players, the second-year coach Bruce Berque's squad is one of the youngest in the conference. The crew has no seniors and is anchored at No. 4 and 6 singles by freshmen Andrew Mazlin and Peter Aarts, respectively, who both counted team-best 6-3 conference marks.
Michigan State Spartans
The Michigan State Spartans (7-17, 1-9 Big Ten) are another youthful group. In his 18th season as head coach in East Lansing, Mich., Gene Orlando has only two veterans among his top six singles competitors. Sophomore Nick Rinks leads the way at No. 1 singles. The 125-ranked player in the country held down the top spot with a 14-8 mark, while fellow sophomore Adam Monich piloted the No. 2 singles efforts in 2006. Rounding out the ITA top 60 doubles squads, the two have charted a 13-10 overall record as MSU's top doubles tandem and notched a 4-6 mark against league opponents. Freshmen John Allare and Scott Rassmusen played more than 22 matches at their respective No. 4 and No. 6 singles spots.
Northwestern is the first obstacle Michigan State will have to overcome when the Wildcats and Spartans clash in the first round at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday. The Spartans are looking to halt a six-meet losing skid which they have bee riding since the beginning of April, after capturing their lone win in Big Ten play, 5-2, against Iowa. In the teams' regular season meeting, Northwestern won 7-0.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are hosting the Big Ten Championship for the first time since 1994 - a season that marked Minnesota's third of four-straight conference titles from 1992-1995. The Gophers finished in the top half of the Big Ten for the 28th time in the last 29 seasons at third with a 7-3 tab in league play. After dropping its first conference loss eventual regular season champion Ohio State, the Gophers regrouped for five straight Big Ten wins. Minnesota then lost to Indiana and at Illinois, before wrapping up the season with a 7-0 win over Purdue to earn the third seed in the championship and an opening round bye.
Junior D.J. Geatz heads the singles effort for the Gophers with a 20-14 overall record, including a 6-4 mark in Big Ten play, while Raoul Schwark finished the conference season 9-1 (22-9 overall) at No. 6 singles. The third Gopher 20-wins to his credit is No. 3 singles player Nic Eldefsen, who compiled a 21-17 mark.
Northwestern's 58th-ranked men's tennis team finished the Big Ten season with an even 5-5 record, earning a No. 7 seed in the 2006 conference championship. The Wildcats, who are slated to face 10th-seeded Michigan State in the first round, are looking to rebound from a two-match losing streak in which they fell to No. 5 Illinois and No. 7 Ohio State in their final two meets of the regular season. In its dual match versus Michigan State earlier this season, Northwestern won eight of the nine matches, dropping only a decision at No. 3 doubles.
Leading the Wildcats is senior Christian Tempke, who currently holds the 66th-best ranking in the nation. Playing all but one match at No. 1 singles, he registered an 11-10 singles record this season. Willy Lock provided the most consistent play for the Wildcats with a 15-6 season at No. 2 singles, including a 7-3 Big Ten performance. The Wildcats' No. 1 doubles pairing of senior Matt Christian and junior Adam Schaetterle have teamed up for all but one of NU's dual contests this season and are 11-9 entering the championship.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Conference regular season champion Ohio State will look for its first Big Ten Championship title since 2001 after claiming the top seed for the first time in program history. A runner-up for the past four years, the Buckeyes crafted a 10-0 mark in league play this year. At 22-1 overall, seventh-ranked Ohio State compiled is sixth straight 20-win season and earned its highest national ranking in school history.
The Buckeyes will open their quest for the postseason conference crown at 10 a.m. Friday against the winner of Thursday's Wisconsin-Purdue match. Ohio State's league title this year is the fifth Big Ten title in program history, but marks the first-ever regular season crown for the Buckeyes. Ohio State clinched the outright regular season Big Ten title Sunday by defeating Wisconsin 6-1.
A multitalented group that includes four nationally ranked singles players, the Buckeyes' biggest threat is their versatility. It has proven to be a key factor that has allowed head coach Ty Tucker room to make adjustments in OSU's 19-game win streak since counting its only loss of the season against then-11th-ranked Notre Dame in the third contest of the year. During that streak, four different Buckeyes' claimed wins at No. 1 singles. Nine Buckeyes claimed conference conference victories in a league season OSU dominated, dropping no more than two points in any Big Ten dual meet. Leading the way is Chris Klingemann at No. 1 singles. The 88th-ranked junior finished 9-2 in conference play. No. 118 Devin Mullings earned a 9-1 Big Ten mark, and Dennis Mertens split time at the four, five and six spots while tallying a perfect 9-0 league record. One of the biggest additions to the OSU lineup this season is freshman Bryan Koniecko, the 40th-best player in the country. He finished 7-3 in the Big Ten at the second and third singles spots.
The Buckeyes are equally dangerous on doubles, having not lost the doubles point once this season. Their efforts are piloted by the No. 1-ranked tandem of seniors Scott Green and Ross Wilson, who are 21-1 overall and 10-0 in the Big Ten. Drew Eberly and Koniecko teamed up for a 10-0 conference ledger of their own at No. 2 doubles, while Mullings and Klingemann raked in nine wins in an unblemished league effort at No. 3 doubles.
Penn State Nittany Lions
The Penn State men's tennis team will carry the No. 6 seed in the tournament after finishing the regular season with a 5-5-conference record for the second consecutive year. No. 52 Penn State (15-5 overall) grabbed two Big Ten wins at home to close out regular season play with an upset then-No. 39 Michigan and a victory at Michigan State.
The Nittany Lions' top singles competitor, senior Mark Barry enters the championship at No. 68 in the ITA singles rankings. In his final Big Ten campaign, Barry led the Nittany Lions with a 6-4 mark in league play. Fellow senior Malcom Scatliffe compiled a 10-6 singles record at No. 2 singles, including 5-5 in Big Ten action. In doubles, Barry teamed with freshman Adam Slagter to lead the Nittany Lions in the top spot, while the duo of Ryan Berger and Bradley Hunter scored a 7-3 conference record in the second slot.
Purdue enters the tournament with an 8-14 overall record (3-7 Big Ten) and is in search of its first win at the event since 2002. Coming off a weekend split in which they defeated Iowa before falling to No. 37 Minnesota, the ninth-seeded Boilermakers face eighth-seeded Wisconsin. The Badgers, who beat Purdue in Madison on April 16, have won three in a row over the Boilermakers. The two teams have met 61 times, but never in the modern era of the Big Ten Championships.
Seven of Purdue's eight wins this season came at home. The Boilermakers are 1-7 in road matches this spring and 0-4 on the road in the Big Ten. Purdue has not won a road dual match since defeating Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., on April 18, 2004, but the Boilermakers have experienced a different fate on neutral courts, going 1-1 this year with a win over South Florida and a loss to No. 37 Texas Tech in Houston, Texas. Leading the Boilermaker lineup is lead by Colin Foster at No. 1 singles, Scott Warner at No. 2 and Eric Hodgman at No. 3. Foster is 6-15 overall and 5-12 in the top spot, and Eric Hodgman owns a 7-14 record after splitting time at Nos. 2, 3 and 4 singles this season. The Boilermakers doubles attack is led by Hodgman and P.J. Rose. The duo is 6-3 this spring in No. 1 doubles. Foster and Kurt Zaske, who have also seen some action in No. 1 doubles, are 6-9 overall and 2-6 in the top spot.
The Wisconsin men's tennis team is the eighth seed after a 10-11 regular season, including an identical conference record as its first-round opponents Purdue (3-7). Wisconsin claimed the higher seed in the championship by virtue of its 6-1 victory against Purdue at Nielsen Tennis Stadium on April 16.
UW is led by a pair of sophomores, Nolan Polley and Jeremy Sonkin. The pair of second-year aces have played a majority of the No. 1 and 2 singles and No.1 doubles matches. No. 114 Polley has the most momentum of any Badgers heading into the championship. The Lexington, Ky., native has won his last five matches to finish 16-5 this spring and 8-2 in conference play. In his regular season finale, Polley upset Ohio State's then-38th-ranked Bryan Koniecko in No. 2 singles in an impressive 6-2, 6-3 upset victory last Sunday. Sonkin soundly defeated Purdue's Scott Warner 6-2, 6-1 at No. 1 singles for his 15th win. The Wheaton, Ill. played No. 1 singles in every match this season and finished with a 15-6 record. Sonkin was 6-4 in Big Ten play and led the conference with three Athlete of the Week honors. As Wisconsin's No. 1 doubles tandem, Polley and Sonkin finished the dual meet season with a 10-4 record and was 5-4 against Big Ten opponents.
Wisconsin last advanced in the Big Ten championship in 2004, after defeating Penn State 4-3 in East Lansing, Mich. In last season's championship in Champaign, Ill., Wisconsin entered as a 10th seed and fell to seventh-seeded Minnesota, 4-1, in the first round. As a freshman, Sonkin contributed to the effort by dominating Adrien Debreyne, 6-1, 6-1 in No. 2 singles but the Badgers could not manage another singles victory.