Feb. 7, 2010
With two players out with illness Sunday, the fifth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers regrouped to earn a decisive 6-1 victory over 12th-ranked Illinois at Goodfriend Tennis Center to remain undefeated.
All-America junior John-Patrick Smith and senior Matt Brewer were out of the lineup, so the Vols' roster depth was on display out of necessity in a final, key matchup before heading to next week's ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
In Smith's absence, junior Boris Conkic stepped into No. 1 singles for just the third time in his career, picking up a match-clinching victory for Tennessee (7-0). Conkic also played alongside freshman Rhyne Williams at the No. 1 doubles position to secure an 8-4 win over the second-ranked Dennis Nevolo and Marek Czerwinski.
"The main point that I take from today is that these guys have confidence in each other," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "It doesn't matter who's playing, they have confidence in each other. They're really committed to each other, and good things happen when you have that in place."
For lack of a technical term, the "stomach bug" had been making its rounds on the Vols' roster before taking Smith and Brewer out of the lineup. Everyone remaining in the singles lineup moved up a spot or two. Senior Davey Sandgren subbed into the fifth singles position, and freshman Edward Jones played in sixth.
Williams, the freshman from Knoxville, had been battling the illness for the last half of the week, but was ready to go against Illinois (3-2). He finished up first for the Vols out of the No. 2 position, defeating Johnny Hamui 6-0, 6-2. It was his 20th victory of the season.
Freshman Tennys Sandgren, who joined the team in January, followed up a few minutes later with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Marek Czerwinski to improve his record to 7-1.
Conkic shut the door on the Vols' victory with his 10th consecutive win, a 6-3, 7-6 decision over No. 43 Dennis Nevolo in the No. 1 position. He had not played in the top spot since early in his freshman season.
Davey Sandgren and Jones picked up wins in the fifth and sixth positions an hour later to end the match.
Smith's unavailability was additionally felt in doubles because he has played in the No. 1 position for most of his career. He and Davey Sandgren are ranked seventh nationally with 17 victories already this season and 54 in their career.
Conkic and Williams, who normally play the No. 2 position, moved up a spot to play at No. 1 for the Vols. The Tennessee duo, currently ranked 12th, picked up their second win over a top-10 team this season by defeating second-ranked Nevolo and Czerwinski.
Because Davey Sandgren's normal doubles teammate was not in the lineup, he teamed up with Jones at the No. 2 position. Sandgren had not played in a match with anyone besides Smith since his sophomore season, but that did not matter Sunday. He and Jones had no trouble clinching the doubles point with a quick 8-2 victory.
"I thought it was great," Winterbotham said. "We've got a team full of really good players. We've got some young guys who are really stepping up and doing a great job. We've got some senior leadership shining through."
The Vols face the very same Illinois squad Friday in the first round of the Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va.
1. #68 Boris Conkic (UT) def. #43 Dennis Nevolo (UI) 6-3, 7-6 (7-4)
2. #22 Rhyne Williams (UT) def. Johnny Hamui (UI) 6-0, 6-2
3. Tennys Sandgren (UT) def. Marek Czerwinski (UI) 6-3, 6-4
4. Abe Souza (UI) def. Matteo Fago (UT) 7-5, 6-4
5. Davey Sandgren (UT) def. Stephen Hoh (UI) 7-6 (8-6), 6-6 (7-2)
6. Edward Jones (UT) def. Connor Roth (UI) 6-4, 6-2
1. #12 Boris Conkic/Rhyne Williams (UT) def. #2 Dennis Nevolo/Marek Czerwinski (UI) 8-4
2. Davey Sandgren/Edward Jones (UT) def. Johnny Hamui/Stephen Hoh (UI) 8-2
3. Matteo Fago/Tennys Sandgren (UT) def. Abe Souza/Connor Roth (UI) 8-4
Order of finish: Doubles (3,2,1); Singles (2,3,1,4,6,5)