©Colette Lewis 2007--
"Nobody gave us a chance to get past the first round, nobody gave us a chance to get to the final four, and nobody gave us a chance today," said Marc Spicijaric of Illinois' string of upsets, including their 4-3 win over No. 3 Baylor Monday morning. "We've had our backs against the wall the whole year, but we've put in the hours and put in the effort and we'll be ready to go no matter what."
Spicijaric, the hero of the 10th ranked Illini's 4-2 win over Ohio State on Saturday, again came up big against Baylor, when he pulled his team even with a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6) victory over Matt Brown at No. 3.
The sophomore from Florida trailed 5-1 in the second set tiebreak, dismaying all the Georgia fans gathered for the Bulldogs' noon match with Virginia. A third set to decide the match could easily mean another hour of waiting. But they didn't know what Spicijaric knew.
"I didn't think that was much of a problem," he said of the 1-5 deficit. "I always knew I was going to win the match, I mean the dude was dead, and I was fresh. I could have played for another four hours."
Brown took a medical timeout at 1-1 in the tiebreak, but Baylor coach Matt Knoll thought the problems he was suffering from were more mental than physical.
"I think we were just nervous," said Knoll, whose teams had reached the NCAA team semifinals four consecutive years and lost 4-3 in that round two years running. "It wasn't a loss of conditioning, I think we were just nervous out there, and when you get nervous and tight you start having symptoms that could be associated with cramping."
By "we" Knoll was including Michael Kokta, a senior who squandered two match points in the second set tiebreak against Ryan Rowe, and when Spicijaric brought Illinois even, Kokta was trailing 4-1 in the third at No. 2 singles. He needed to mount a comeback similar to the one he'd managed in the first set when he came back from a 3-0, two-break deficit to win six of the next seven games, but there was no energy left. Kokta called for a trainer down 5-2, and after evaluation and treatment, more than five minutes had passed, giving Rowe plenty of time to think about his lead.
"Ryan and I had a great dialogue there," said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer. "I said let's analyze things here. We're serving well, he's not serving well. We're hitting our forehand big, he's missing some forehands; we can play the transition game pretty good, he's maybe a little bit nervous on transition. I said we've got a lot of things going for us in the third set, so let's make sure you're calm between points, and courageous during the point and that's what he did."
When asked if Illinois had a chance to continue its string of upsets in the final, Knoll was blunt.
"No, Georgia's way too good for everybody," he said. "I think it's hard for us to sit here today and see how good Georgia is. I think you're going to see a guy like (Nate) Schnugg playing Davis Cup for the USA. These guys are elite players. They're way better," he said adding that he would feel the same if it was his team that was facing them in the finals.
Dancer wasn't quite so resigned to a loss. "I feel they're an unbelievable team. When you've got guys that are all-stars all the way through their lineup, big players, big hitters. They've got studs at every position. I guess the only thing I'd say to that is we'll be here at 3 o'clock and we'll be ready to go."
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Monday, May 21, 2007