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Mississippi State Men Shock Illini

The NCAA Division I Men's Tennis bracket held a few upsets this year heading into the round of 16. One is a big one - 2003 winners (and 2007 finalists) Illinois won't be going to Tulsa.

The University of Illinois served as one of sixteen regional host sites for the NCAA Championships
© Marcia Frost
Although senior Jared Hiltzik and sophomore Alex Vukic will be heading to the NCAA Championships in the singles draw, it will be only the third time in 11 years Head Coach Brad Dancer won't be taking the team to the event.

On the other side, Mississippi State first year Head Coach Matt Roberts, who replaced Per Nilsson after two years as the Bulldogs assistant coach, was not bringing in a team that were total underdogs. They had finished the season 20-8 and were No. 21 in the nation after coming through the tough SEC conference.

Everything seemed to be moving along as expected on Friday with the weather being the only real surprise. After a week of spring temperatures, the thermometer began to drop through the day and the clouds rolled in to the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex.

Despite the fact that the Mississippi State Bulldogs were bringing six freshmen to the University of Illinois, only Mate Cutura and Rishab Agarwal were returning, and Vaughan Hunter is a transfer from Tyler Junior College, the team sailed through their first round with a 4-1 win over Memphis.

It was a bit tougher for the Fighting Illini as they lost the doubles point to Western Michigan in a tiebreaker on court one. They came back with three straight set singles wins and a fourth which had to be rain delayed while it was finished inside by proud senior Jared Hiltzik.

On Saturday, record cold came into Champaign-Urbana, accompanied by wind. The crowd huddled under winter coats and blankets, taking advantage of free coffee and hot chocolate.

Fans even came from Mississippi State to cheer their team. "Hail State" was as prevalent through the crowd as "I-L-L-I-N-I." Even though the temperature dipped to 50 degrees, no one was moving out of their seats until it was over.

The Illini once again could not get the initial doubles point. It was a quick win for the Bulldogs at Court 3. Although both remaining courts were close, Mississippi State had it with two wins and the final court abandoned in a tiebreaker.

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Page updated on Monday, March 11, 2019
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