Tennis team ready for season to begin after six-month training

By Amber Greviskes

The Illinois men’s tennis team has been waiting for this weekend since May.

On Saturday, the Illini will head to Ball State, in Muncie, Ind., for their first dual match of the 2005 season.

“We’re going to have our work cut out for us,” said Illinois Head Coach Craig Tiley. “But I’m feeling confident that we’ll have a good weekend.”

This year’s tennis team is vastly different from the 2004 team, which featured three All-Americans. But the expectations for the season have not changed.

The Illini are determined to bring home a Big Ten title – the team has won the last eight regular season conference titles – and make a strong showing at the national level, said Illinois senior Conner Murnighan.

However, the Illini are just beginning the season and there is a lot of time until the championship part of the season in late April and May. Now they are focusing on individual improvement and their next opponent, Ball State.

The Cardinals, coached by Bill Richards, will have more experience and depth than in years past. This year’s Ball State team features first-team All-Mid-American Conference selections junior Matt Baccarani and senior Matt Laramore. Patrick Thompson, a junior, was a second-team All-Mid-American Conference selection.

The Cardinals, which Tiley said is always a formidable opponent, will also have more experience than the Illini.

Ball State returns seven lettermen from last year’s roster – four of those returning players are seniors. Illinois – although a young team – will respond with a balanced attack. Junior Ryler DeHeart is the No. 2 player in the nation. Three other Illini – sophomore GD Jones, junior Pramod Dabir and senior Chris Martin – are all ranked in the nation’s top 120.

“We’ve prepared for this for the last six months and I’m just hoping that we’ll get off to a good start,” Jones said.

But to be successful, the Illini will need to receive help from the largest freshman class to join the program in recent history. The freshmen will compete in their first dual match of the season this weekend. Throughout the fall, the Illini participated in various tournaments as individuals. The coaches have yet to see how the freshmen will react to the new environment.

“I don’t really know at this point in this season where we’re at,” Tiley said. “They’ll have more leadership and they’ll have more experience than we have, but again, we have to go out and play them.”

In addition to the loss of last year’s senior class, the Illini will be short one of their main contributors. Martin, who clinched the NCAA team title for Illinois in 2003, has a stress fracture and will not be able to compete.

However freshman Monte Tucker said he and the other members of the freshman class are ready to contribute to the team and are excited about the opportunity to compete.

“Everyone’s probably a little nervous, we’re just ready to get it started,” Tucker said.

Although the freshmen have never competed in a team environment, Tucker said he feels prepared after watching college matches while in high school and knows the events can get “pretty rowdy.” He said the upperclassmen have also told the newcomers what to expect from the fans at other schools.

“I think it’s better that we play our first match on the road, get it under our belt and then come back home and get ready for the hometown crowd,” Tucker said.