Duo ranks No. 22 in the nation

By Alex Iniguez

One hundred and sixty-five miles separate Moline, Ill., and Vernon Hills, Ill., the respective hometowns of two of the Illinois men’s tennis team’s finest players, senior Ryan Rowe and sophomore Billy Heiser. One could mistakenly assume that the two players, who together form one of the nation’s best doubles teams, came from the same household.

Chemistry is a crucial aspect of doubles play in tennis. Not only do the players need to know their partner’s tendencies, they also have to keep their teammate’s emotions in check. If one player underperforms, he lets down his partner. Fortunately, Heiser and Rowe have had few letdowns this season. The pair has great chemistry on the court – great enough to propel the duo to a No. 22 ranking, a recent 8-5 win against Pepperdine’s Johannes de Villiers and Bassam Beidas and an impressive 10-3 record on the season.

“Billy’s kind of laid back,” Rowe said. “The coaches try and get him to be a little more pumped up. I try to not let his emotions affect him too much, and I tell him to try not to listen to the coaches because sometimes you just gotta play. He’s kind of quiet and I’m kind of loud sometimes, so I try to get him pumped up when he needs to be pumped up and he tries to keep me from getting too excited.”

Off the court, Rowe and Heiser share a closeness that rivals their on-court chemistry. The two, along with senior Brandon Davis, are roommates.

Heiser and Rowe both agree the other is fun to be around.

“We get along well and enjoy doing the same things, like relaxing,” Heiser said. “We’ve always been good friends. Me, him and Brandon are probably the closest three players on the team because we live together.”

The two have a long history together. They have known each other since they were 15 years old and even played in and won a men’s open doubles tournament together before Heiser came to Illinois. And despite the fact that Billy is a sophomore and Ryan is a senior, both are 21 years old.

“We started well with our chemistry,” Rowe said. “Then when we came out to college we felt pretty confident playing together and felt comfortable with each other. Knowing each other since we were 15 was beneficial to us.”

Heiser and Rowe have played nearly all of their doubles matches together this season. Dating back to the second match of the season, a 4-3 Illini loss to No. 1 Virginia, the tandem has had considerable success in doubles play. The highest ranked team defeated at the hands of Rowe and Heiser was No. 26 Dominic Inglot and Houston Barrick of Virginia, who fell to the duo early in the season, 8-4.

“We were always joking that (head coach Brad Dancer) should’ve put us together sooner because we hadn’t lost yet,” Heiser said. “I think we won 12 or 13 matches in a row before we lost together, so we were giving Brad a hard time that we didn’t get to play together more.”

The pair’s success can be partially attributed to their contrasting styles of play. Rowe is left-handed with a booming serve, while Heiser has a great return game and is more comfortable playing from the baseline.

“Doubles teams that are able to have some contrast and can be a little more aggressive like us have success,” Rowe said.

Rowe is no stranger to top-level doubles play. The senior teamed with former Illini and current ATP Tour member Kevin Anderson to win the NCAA Doubles Championship in 2006 and followed that performance with a second-place showing, again with Anderson, in the 2007 NCAA Doubles Championship.

“The last two years with Kevin, I’ve had some success,” Rowe said. “But first of all we want to help the team. And then, second of all, we want to just try and win some matches.”

Illini of the week honorable mention

Demetri McCamey – Men’s basketball

As a starting freshman, McCamey led the No. 10-seeded Illini to the Big Ten Tournament final before ultimately falling to Wisconsin. In the team’s improbable charge to the championship game, McCamey’s performance was highlighted by his 26 points and 7 rebounds in Illinois’ 74-67 overtime win against Purdue. McCamey finished the tournament with the most assists, tallying 17. The Bellwood, Ill., native was named to the All-Tournament team after averaging 10 points per game.

Mike Poeta – Wrestling

As a two-time All-American, Poeta, a junior, posted a 35-3 record on his way to capturing second place at the NCAA Championships in the 125 pound weight class. His junior season marked the University’s eighth-best season winning percentage (.921).