Illini return determined

By Amber Greviskes

After nine days in Mexico, the men’s tennis team is focused on the upcoming season and approaching the year with a positive outlook.

Throughout the competition, the men looked dominant. The members of the team combined to go 18-6 in singles and 13-2 in doubles against No. 19 California and No. 30 Georgia during the Mexico Invitational at Club Maeza in Manzanillo, Mexico.

Illinois sophomore Ryan Rowe and Illini senior All-American Ryler DeHeart, the No.7 player in the nation, finished the weekend undefeated, highlighting the team’s accomplishments. Although pleased with the men’s results, Illinois head coach Brad Dancer still sees room for improvement.

“We took some steps forward,” Dancer said. “But we have a long way to go and not a long time to get there.”

This year, the challenge for the men will be improving on their Big Ten regular and tournament titles, as well as their Sweet Sixteen appearance at the NCAA tournament, Dancer said.

The performance of each athlete will be crucial if the men are to accomplish their team goals. Throughout the trip to Mexico, Dancer tried many different doubles combinations in preparation for the team’s upcoming matches against Ball State and No. 1 Virginia. Each member of the team knows that he could be called upon at any time and they know they will need to be prepared.

By competing in Mexico, the men were able to determine which aspects of their games need improvement as well as what progress they have made.

Illinois freshman Marc Spicijaric said he feels that he has improved his ability to mentally focus before and during matches. His new-found focus may prove to be crucial in the future too, because, Dancer said, the expectations for Spicijaric are high.

“He’s going to get thrown out there, he’s going to have opportunities to prove himself and he’s got to take advantage of them,” Dancer said.

The Illini agree that the team is shaping up nicely, despite missing Illinois junior GD Jones. However, DeHeart was able to accompany the team to the Mexico Invitational. When the team was preparing for the trip in December, DeHeart was planning to play in the first United States Tennis Association futures tournament of the year, in Tampa, Fla. However, he is playing in a different futures event, the Star Island Classic, in Kissimmee, Fla., this week. He will play Dmitri Vlasov of Russia today. Vlasov qualified into the tournament over the weekend.

“We got in some good bonding in Mexico, and we’re molding pretty good right now,” sophomore Brandon Davis said. “A lot of guys are playing well and we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

Spicijaric, however, is just excited about the chance to play at home in the upcoming weeks.

“Mexico was fun, it was the best trip that we’ve been on so far,” he said. “But it’s good to be back home.”