Trio heads to national championships in Ohio

Illinois´ Ryler DeHeart returns the ball to Ohio State´s Joey Atas in a singles match April 3 at the Atkins Tennis Center. DeHeart won the match. Daily Illini file photo

Illinois´ Ryler DeHeart returns the ball to Ohio State´s Joey Atas in a singles match April 3 at the Atkins Tennis Center. DeHeart won the match. Daily Illini file photo

By Amber Greviskes

Illinois senior Ryler DeHeart will attempt to defend his national singles title at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Indoor Championships when the national tournament starts today at the Racquet Club of Columbus in Columbus, Ohio.

DeHeart will represent the Illini in singles, while freshman Marc Spicijaric and sophomore Monte Tucker attempt to win the doubles crown.

“Ryler is going to do great, he’s just a great competitor,” said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer. “He can get it done – he will get it done.”

DeHeart, who was unseeded when he entered the tournament last year, is now the No.1 seed after reaching All-American status last year and compiling an impressive singles record – he currently holds the Illinois record for most singles wins in a season; he finished the season 42-10.

“I haven’t really thought about defending the title that much,” DeHeart said. “The point, for me, is to concentrate on my tennis and the improvements that I have to make, instead of winning and losing.”

DeHeart is simply focusing on his first match today – which pits him against Mislav Hizak of Embry-Riddle. Hizak earned a wild card into the championships by winning the ITA National Small College title.

He knows little about his opponent but is concerned more with executing his game plan from the first point.

“You just have to play each point and not take anyone for granted,” DeHeart said.

Spicijaric and Tucker will not be able to take anyone for granted either. The duo earned their way to the tournament based on their ITA Midwest Regional title. They will play Middle Tennessee’s Marco Born and Andreas Siliestrom, the tournament’s No.1 seed.

“They have got a long ways to go to prove to me that they are a legitimate team,” Dancer said. “But they have a tremendous chemistry. They have just been able to gel really, really well.”

The duo is playing fearlessly right now, Dancer said, and he has high expectations for them going into this weekend. The Illini plan to live up to his expectations.

“Obviously, the guys we are playing are good, but it’s not like they’re doing anything much better than us,” Spicijaric said.

The doubles tandem might have a slight advantage over their first-round rivals. DeHeart and sophomore Kevin Anderson played against the tandem at the All-American Championships. Since the draws were released, the men have been able to formulate a plan to defeat the duo.

“It’s better for us,” Spicijaric said. “They don’t know anything about us and might underestimate us.”

Although the Illini do not normally play at the Racquet Club of Columbus, the Illini believe that they may have a slight advantage when they get to Columbus. The team’s rivalry against Ohio State tends to get the team fired up, and there are several Buckeyes who are expected to play in the tournament, including last year’s doubles champions, Ross Wilson and Scott Green.

“Going to Columbus could be a factor,” DeHeart said. “Anytime you go to Ohio State territory, the juices start flowing.”