Men’s tennis gears up to snap Gators

By Alex Iniguez

It’s no secret that the Illinois men’s tennis team has fought the University of Florida for recruits for some time.

This Sunday, the two teams will have the ultimate opportunity to showcase their talent, as the No. 14 Gators (4-2) and the No. 9 Illini (5-3) are set to duke it out in Gainesville, Fla., in an important non-conference match.

“They’ve stolen (Jeff) Dadamo, (Tyler) Hochwalt and (Johnny) Hamui,” head coach Brad Dancer said.

“All those guys were visiting here and looking at Illinois. They all went to Florida, and our guys know that too. We have a lot of respect for them, but we’re not going to back down.”

Not only are the two teams familiar with each other on the recruiting trail, but on the court as well.

Illinois holds an 8-4 advantage in the series and has dominated in recent years, winning each of their last five matches with the Gators by a combined score of 31-4.

Last weekend was a turning point on the season for the Illini. At the ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship, the Illini lost to No. 7 USC on Friday before rebounding with a win against No. 28 Boise State and later dismissing No. 27 Washington.

In Sunday’s match against Washington, senior Ryan Rowe, sophomore Billy Heiser and junior Marc Spicijaric all won in singles, and the Illini took two of three doubles matches to win 4-1.

“That was big,” senior Brandon Davis said.

“Those were all tough matches, and every team there is good. The match with USC was kind of a fluke. We probably don’t lose that match too many times. Coming back was big for us. We got a lot of confidence from those matches, and it just gets us more prepared for the rest of the season.”

Florida is playing with confidence too.

The Gators enter the weekend on a positive note after notching a 5-2 win over a talented No. 16 Florida State team.

Illinois will have an opportunity to show Florida what they can do with the focus and poise with which the Illini can play.

“With the way we ended last year, everyone wants to beat us,” Spicijaric said.

“We’ve got that bull’s-eye on us. They’re a young team, so that’ll be good for them because they don’t really know what happened in the past few times we’ve played them.”

Florida is an extremely young team — they start five freshmen at times – and Gators head coach Andy Jackson knows it will be difficult to beat an Illini team that seems to be clicking.

“We’ve got a lot to learn,” Jackson said.

“We’re preparing mostly for the future as opposed to one particular match. Illinois is a solid favorite this time of year because of our inexperience, but we’ll try and give it our best and see if we can sneak one out.”

The Illini, on the other hand, are focused on one thing: beating Florida.

“Who doesn’t want to beat Florida? There’s no other way for me to say it,” Dancer said.

“The guys always seem to get up for our match against Florida, and it has been a competitive match every time we have faced them. We will definitely be ready for them come Sunday.”