ND looks to stay undefeated at Illini
Greg Hadley | Wednesday, February 5, 2014
After a second thrilling win in as many weeks against No. 13 Kentucky on Sunday, No. 22 Notre Dame hits the road tonight for another tough matchup against No. 19 Illinois.
With the win against the Wildcats (5-2), the Irish (6-0) remained undefeated on the spring season and matched their best start since 2005.
Like the first match against Kentucky, freshman Eddy Covalschi clinched the 4-3 victory, this time on Notre Dame’s home court. The Irish now travel to Champaign, Ill., for the start of two weeks’ worth of competition away from the Eck Tennis Pavilion.
The Illini (2-2) have yet to play at home this season but have already clinched their spot at the National Indoor Championships for the first time since 2011, thanks to a strong opening weekend with wins over Michigan and Clemson. Since then, they have struggled on the road, dropping consecutive decisions to Duke and North Carolina last weekend. But Irish coach Ryan Sachire said he anticipates a close match.
“We feel good going into Wednesday,” Sachire said. “It’s going to be another one of those close, 50-50 matches against a very competitive Illinois team.”
If the match does come down to the wire, then the Irish may find themselves once again relying on Covalschi, who has clinched two consecutive victories and established himself in the starting lineup.
“Eddy did a great job [against Kentucky],” Sachire said. “He stepped up and got the win and did a great job of handling that moment.”
Senior Greg Andrews, ranked No. 22 in the country, has struggled during the spring season in singles play and lost Sunday to Kentucky senior Tom Jomby for the second straight week.
He has had much more success in doubles play, partnering with sophomore Alex Lawson to win three straight matches. Freshman Josh Hagar and senior Billy Pecor have also won two of their three matches together. Overall, the Irish have won all but one doubles point on the season, while Illinois has lost three of four.
The Illini are led by sophomore Jared Hiltzik, who is ranked No. 4 in the country in singles play. Hiltzik suffered his only loss of the season against North Carolina but is still 3-1 in dual match play.
Notre Dame defeated Illinois decisively last season, 4-1, and the Irish have a long and competitive history with the Illini. Notre Dame has already upset Kentucky on the road this season, but Sachire said playing at Illinois will present an especially tough challenge. The home team has been victorious in the series every season since 2006.
“It’s going to be a real question of whether we can go out and play sharp on the road and end that streak,” Sachire said.
The Irish take the court tonight against Illinois at 7 p.m. in Champaign, Ill.
Contact Greg Hadley at [email protected]