Men head to Mexico to compete, bond

By Amber Greviskes

The Illinois men’s tennis team will spend 10 days in Mexico during break, facing fierce competition – but the trip will not be all work for the Illini.

One of the main reasons the team makes the trip each year is to focus on building team camaraderie that will propel them through the next season, Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. Although the team has been competing since September, the Illini have rarely traveled as a team to any destination. Instead, during the fall the men compete as individuals and work on fine-tuning various aspects of their individual games.

The change of scenery in the middle of January also helps, said Illinois sophomore Brandon Davis, who will be making his first trip to Mexico.

“It’ll just be fun to get the whole team going to the same place again and getting everyone on the same track for the start of the spring season,” Davis said. “We start to mesh pretty well there and kick-start things.”

In his four years competing for Illinois, the winter break trip has always been a highlight, senior Pramod Dabir said. During his tenure with the team, the men have traveled to Hawaii, former head coach Craig Tiley’s native South Africa and Puerto Rico.

“It helps you broaden your horizons a little bit,” Dabir said. “South Africa was a completely different culture and different people.”

Throughout the trip the team also has challenges to complete, a la reality TV shows, designed to motivate the team and make the men work together to accomplish a common goal.

“They’re designed to help us push each other and motivate each other more,” Dabir said.

Although Dabir is excited about the trip, the senior said the trip will not be the same as in the past.

Senior teammate Ryler DeHeart is not scheduled to make the trip this year. Instead, DeHeart is expected to compete in the Tampa, Fla., Intercollegiate Tennis Association Futures tournament as an amateur. Futures tournaments serve as a stepping stone for athletes who are trying to become top touring professionals. DeHeart, who was the top-ranked college tennis player by the ITA in the preseason rankings, will attempt to use the tournament to jumpstart his professional career, which he will pursue after graduation in May.

The decision to compete in the tournament instead of traveling and competing with his team was a bittersweet one for DeHeart.

“I feel like I have an obligation to the team,” he said. “But it’s an opportunity that I can’t really miss. So it’s a little bittersweet.”

Although he will miss the team trip, DeHeart is still focusing on the spring season. It is the last chance he and Dabir have to be part of a Big Ten championship or national championship winning team.

“We do have a lot of work to do,” DeHeart said. “But it’s not a question of talent or potential. It’s a question of how bad we really want it and how bad the guys really want it. We definitely have a chance to make history again.”