Men’s tennis fields three for challenge

Mens tennis fields three for challenge

By Eric Chima

With their teammates playing in the prestigious All-American tournament this weekend, it will be left to three Illinois tennis players to represent the team at the inaugural Scott Treibly College Tennis Challenge in Bradenton, Fla.

Junior Brandon Davis, sophomore Marc Spicijaric and freshman Billy Heiser will play in the tournament, which features stiff competition from across the country. The event will begin with round-robin play within two pools consisting of four teams each. The best two teams from each pool will advance to face each other in single-elimination matches to decide a champion.

The Challenge represents a change of plans for the Illini, who were originally scheduled to miss the entire week while playing in the qualifying rounds of the All-American tournament. But head coach Brad Dancer decided to send only Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe, who were guaranteed spots in the main draw. Dancer said the other players would be better served getting more guaranteed matches and spending the entire week in the classroom.

“We want to maximize the playing opportunities for a minimum amount of class time,” Dancer said. “The guys we’re taking down to (Florida) will all get five matches in, which is great experience, and they’re only going to miss one day of class.”

Heiser said he was disappointed to miss the first national tournament of his college career, but said he needed more work before taking on top-flight competition.

“I’m still working on a few things, and maybe I’m not quite ready yet,” Heiser said. “It’s definitely disappointing, but this is a good chance to catch up on schoolwork. I’m looking forward to getting in a lot of matches.”

Heiser has started his first season well, notching a pair of victories in his first two collegiate matches at the Napa Valley Invitational. Davis and Spicijaric played last weekend at the Cincinnati Collegiate Invitational, where they went 2-1 as a doubles team and found mixed results in singles play. Davis is 3-4 in singles on the young season, and Spicijaric will look to improve on a 2-5 mark.

The Illini’s opening pool features matches against Florida, Kentucky and Armstrong State. If the team advances from their pool, they will need to win one more match to reach the final on Sunday.

The tournament will take place at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy, which has gained prominence as the training ground for professional stars like Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi. But this event, which Illinois is co-sponsoring with the tennis academy, will be the first team college tournament held there, Dancer said.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to get some exposure at the academy,” Dancer said. “It’s a lot of matches, and the guys are going to be exhausted, but I’m excited about it.”