Seniors close Big Ten season with wins

Pramod Dabir waves to fans while being introduced with Ryler DeHeart during a farewell ceremony for seniors. Beck Diefenbach

Pramod Dabir waves to fans while being introduced with Ryler DeHeart during a farewell ceremony for seniors. Beck Diefenbach

By Amber Greviskes

Illinois’ men’s tennis team punctuated its Senior Day match with a 7-0 thrashing of Iowa at the Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday.

“We could easily have stumbled at any time (this season),” said Illinois head coach Brad Dancer.

But the seniors would not allow that to happen.

Illinois defeated No. 39 Minnesota 6-1 on Saturday. Sophomore Ruben Gonzales picked up the team’s only singles loss. He fell to Raoul Schwark, 6-2, 4-6, 10-4.

Seniors Pramod Dabir and Ryler DeHeart started the Illini’s assault of Iowa when the pair clinched the doubles point with their 8-3 doubles win against Bart van Monsjou and J.P. Ritchie at the top doubles spot.

“Playing with Pramod is always entertaining,” DeHeart said. “We just tried to play loose and have a good time.”

Both seniors picked up singles wins as well. Dabir wrapped up his last home match – a 6-1, 6-7 (2), 10-8 victory against Brett Taylor – mere seconds before DeHeart defeated van Monsjou 6-3, 6-3.

Sophomore Brandon Davis picked up his first career dual-match singles win to seal the victory for the Illini. He clinched the match defeating Aaron Schaechterle 6-4, 6-1.

“It wasn’t as big of deal as it might have been because I should have won my last two,” Davis said. “I should have a couple wins by now.”

Illinois’ underclassmen were excited about helping their seniors shutout the Hawkeyes in their last regular season match at home.

“We always try to go out and win as bad as we can,” Davis said. “Not just against Iowa.”

Defeating both teams this weekend by large margins was a fitting send off for the seniors, freshman Marc Spicijaric said, especially since the seniors are so focused on the future.

“They’re all about business right now,” Spicijaric said of the seniors. “They’re always going to go out and give 110 percent.”

Watching the seniors perform so well, especially when playing doubles together, has really helped elevate the team’s overall performance, Spicijaric said.

The seniors, however, feel privileged to be a part of one of the top tennis programs in the country. During their four years, the Illini have won four national team titles.

The seniors have also earned individual honors. DeHeart won Illinois’ only Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Indoor Singles title. Dabir, during his freshman campaign, won the most consecutive singles matches in school history.

“It’s been a great four years,” Dabir said. “It’s unfortunate that it ended; but, we still have the postseason to play.”

For the Illini, a team that prides itself on being a national contender, the most important part of the season is just beginning.

“We’re starting to get back to where we were before, and we’re starting to get on a roll,” DeHeart said, following the Minnesota match. “I’m proud of these guys because they fought hard.”

The Big Ten Championships – which should allow Illinois to avenge its lone Big Ten loss to Ohio State – begin this week in Minneapolis, Minn.

“We are not looking forward to the days without Ryler and Pramod on this team,” Dancer said. “Those two have stepped up and taken control of this team. They are very focused on winning the national championship, but we have a lot of tennis left to play.”