Illinois’ tough season continued this weekend with two losses to the No. 4 Baylor Bears and the No. 1 Texas Christian Horned Frogs, as the Illini dropped to 4-8 on the season.
Despite these losses, the Illini are coming out of the weekend with valuable experience against good teams, something that will aid them deeper into the season with conference play quickly approaching.
“These were two great matches for us,” said sophomore Hunter Heck. “I think we all learned a lot. We are looking to learn and improve from every bit of that. “
The weekend at Atkins began with the Illini’s match against the Bears on Friday. Starting in doubles, the Illini came out firing on all cylinders. On Court 3, the pair of graduate student Alex Brown and freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas put up a dominant 6-2 win over their opponents before the No. 40 duo of Heck and redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve clinched the doubles point on Court 1, 7-6 (9).
In singles, the Illini struggled across the board, winning none of their matches. The Bears won this match, 4-1, and sent the Illini to 3-7 on the season.
Early Saturday, the Illini played a match against the University of Illinois Chicago Flames, which was 1-11 coming into the match. This was the perfect way for the Illini to try and rebound from their loss earlier in the weekend. Two quick doubles wins from redshirt junior Siphosothando Montsi and graduate student Olivier Stuart on Court 2 and Brown and Guzauskas on Court 3 saw the Illini take a 1-0 lead moving into singles.
Singles play saw the same dominance against the Flames as doubles play. Heck started out the scoring with a 6-2, 6-2 win over his opponent before senior Nic Meister put the Illini up 3-0 in the match with a 6-3, 6-0 win on Court 6. Clinching the match for Illinois was Montsi on Court 2, who won his match 6-3, 6-0 as well.
The last match of the weekend welcomed the No. 1 Horned Frogs to Atkins Tennis Center. Illinois started this match with the same intensity it ended the last match with, pushing the Horned Frogs to extra games on every court. Unfortunately for the Illini, their valiant effort was not rewarded this time, as the Horned Frogs won the doubles point with wins on Courts 1 and 3.
Singles play was an intense matchup that saw Illinois push TCU to its limit. Heck tied the score up at 1-1 with his win over No. 23 Jake Fearnley 6-3, 6-1 on Court 4. Meister notched his second win of the weekend with a win on Court 6 over his opponent 6-2, 3-6, 6-1. With the score at 3-2 in favor of TCU and Court 1 and 3 locked in back-and-forth matchups, Court 3 would eventually fall in favor of the Horned Frogs, clinching the match, 4-2.
A tight match like this one could have gone either way, but this weekend the ranked matches ended in a heartbreaking defeat for Illinois, which was just a few points away from knocking off No. 1 TCU.
“It was a battle,” Heck said. “It was really tight the entire way through. We had our chances towards the end. It was just a few points here and there that they won, and we couldn’t pull through. “
Looking ahead for Illinois sees them have another weekend off before traveling to Gainesville to play the No. 5 Florida Gators. Although this was a tough weekend of losses, Saturday’s matchup showed that the Illini can hang with high ranked teams like Florida, and they will be using this weekend break to make sure that happens.