©Colette Lewis 2009--
Ann Arbor, MI--
The sixth straight meeting of Illinois and Ohio State for the Big Ten conference title ended as the past three had, with the Buckeyes holding the trophy.
I'll have a more formal recap for the Tennis Recruiting Network on Thursday, but I'll pass along a few observations from today's match, which dodged the bad weather that arrived less than an hour after it finished.
The doubles point didn't disappoint in what was expected to be a close contest, with Ohio State looking a bit shaky yesterday against Michigan, and Illinois playing exceptionally well against Indiana.
Ohio State was up big and early at No. 3, where Bryan Koniecko and Shuhei Uzawa had a 6-1 lead on Illinois's Roy Kalmanovich and Meedo El Tabakh. Illinois was up at No. 1 and No. 2, with Dennis Nevolo and Ruan Roelofse up a break over Justin Kronauge and Steven Moneke, and Marek Czerwinski and Marc Spicijaric up two breaks on Ohio State's Matt Allare and Chase Buchanan. There were twists and turns however, with Allare and Buchanan getting one break back to make it 7-6, and Nevolo losing his serve at 5-4, and Ohio State eventually taking a 6-5 lead. But at 6-6, Kronauge was broken and Czerwinski held at No. 2 to give Illinois the tie, moments after Koneicko and Uzawa had put Ohio State in the lead with an 8-4 win at No. 3. Now it was up to freshman Nevolo to serve out the match and give Illinois a lead going into singles. After a tense 30-30 start to the game, Roelofse took control of the final two points at the net, and Illinois had what would turn out to be its only lead of the day.
Ohio State Ty Tucker was effusive in his praise of Nevolo's doubles play after the match, calling him one of the best five doubles players in the country, while freely admitting that his team doesn't play great doubles. But the Illini couldn't sustain any of the momentum they had amassed when the singles began.
It certainly doesn't hurt the Buckeyes chances when one of the country's top recruits, Chase Buchanan, who joined the team last month, is filling their six slot. As he had done against Michigan on Saturday, Buchanan got an early point for the Buckeyes, , evening the match at 1-1 with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Brian Livingston. As the first set losses began to mount, Illinois must have recognized the feeling Indiana had on Saturday, when the Hoosiers were down early and often on nearly every court. Livingston and Abe Sousza at No. 5 had been outstanding for Illinois against Indiana, but not against Ohio State. Once all six first sets had been won by Buckeyes, it was then just a guessing game as to who would clinch and when. Kronauge gave Ohio State its second point by downing Kalmanovich 6-3, 6-2 at No. 2, and Koniecko put them on the brink with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Spicijaric at No. 1. When Souza was broken at 4-4 in the second set against Balazs Novak, the Buckeyes no longer on court and those who traveled with the team but didn't play, congregated courtside. It wasn't a long wait, with Novak holding at love to deliver the fourth point and the fourth conference title for the Buckeyes, who completed a perfect Big Ten season for the fourth year in a row.
As the staff distributed the hats and T-shirts proclaiming the Buckeyes Big Ten Champions, there was excitement and happiness, with the freshman and sophomores displaying the biggest smiles. For the seniors and Tucker, one of the emotions was certainly relief, but even with the NCAAs looming, Ohio State was going to take the time to enjoy it.
"Are you kidding me?" Tucker said, when I asked him if it gets old. "No, it's unbelievable. Sometimes the faces change, but they're all Buckeyes and they work hard, they fight hard."
For complete scores, see the Ohio State website.
Tucker still has a ways to go to approach the record that Claire Pollard is posting at Northwestern. Her women have now won 11 straight conference titles with a 4-0 victory over Michigan today in Wisconsin. For details, see the Northwestern website.
In the SEC, the Ole Miss men and Georgia women have earned conference titles. And in the Big 12, Baylor prevails in both men's and women's conference tournaments.
Sunday, April 26, 2009