Hawkeyes Oh So Close

March 9, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — One point. One match. The Iowa men’s tennis team was that close to notching a victory over Big Ten rival and fourth-ranked Illinois Sunday. The Hawkeyes led the match, before eventually falling 4-3 in a heartbreaker at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex.

“We had a golden opportunity,” said head coach Steve Houghton. “I had mixed emotions after the loss. We had a great opportunity and we couldn’t quite get over the hump. At the same time, it is a great confidence builder. We played with one of the top teams in the nation.”

Illinois, No. 4 nationally, is 9-4. All four of their losses have come at the hands of top five teams. All but two of the teams it has played are ranked. The only other matches it competed in that were decided by a single point came against No. 12 Kentucky and No. 12 Florida, both 4-3 victories. The Fighting Illini’s battle against No. 73 Iowa also resulted in a 4-3 win, showing the strength and quality of the Hawkeye squad.

“It also was a landmark for our program,” said Houghton. “It shows how far we have come. It was really tough but when you look back, we were close. It came down to the last match. It was a battle.”

Iowa won the doubles point, something that does not happen often against Illinois.

“Illinois is one of the best doubles teams in the country,” said Houghton. “They are known for their doubles play.”

The Hawkeyes answered the call against the Illini. Senior Austen Kauss and freshman Jeroen Gortworst teamed up at the No. 2 spot to take down Roy Kalmanovich and Abe Souza, 8-6. Each team had one doubles win, leaving it up to juniors Marc Bruche and Will Vasos. The 71st-ranked duo downed Connor Roth and Stephen Hoh, 8-6, to claim the point.

No stranger to success in doubles play, Vasos owned a career dual doubles record of 30-15 entering 2011, including teaming up with former Hawkeye Tommy McGeorge in 2009 to win 17 dual doubles matches, the third most wins in a season in school history.

The Fort Collins, Colo., native echoed his coach’s thoughts on the tough loss.

“We knew they were a top team nationally and in the Big Ten,” said Vasos. “Now we know we can battle anybody. We couldn’t pull it out, but it gave us a big confidence boost.”

Iowa (4-4) opened the season with a 7-0 win over Creighton in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes then fell on the road to a much improved DePaul team (5-2). Iowa followed that with a trip to Fayetteville, Ark., where it fell to No. 58 Arkansas (6-1) and No. 59 Santa Clara (4-3).

Entering the Big Ten opener against Illinois, Iowa had won three straight matches against tough opponents: Illinois State (4-3), Western Michigan (5-2) and in-state rival Drake (5-2).

“Despite the loss, we are really excited for the rest of the season,” said Vasos. “We have three big matches in Florida then the heart of the Big Ten season.”

Iowa travels to Florida this coming weekend for its annual spring trip. Iowa will play at Central Florida Sunday (10 a.m. CT), at South Florida Monday (11 a.m. CT) and vs. Florida Atlantic Thursday (TBA) in Orlando, Fla. The Hawkeyes continue conference action March 25 at home against No. 3 Ohio State (2 p.m.).

“It will serve as a great opportunity for us to get used to playing outdoors,” said Houghton. “It will also give us a chance to prepare for Big Ten matches and solidify our lineup.”

“We are trying to accomplish big things this season,” said Vasos.

If the match against Illinois is any indication, the Hawkeyes are on their way.