Men’s tennis regroups after losing top players



By Alex Iniguez

Ruben Gonzales, Ryan Rowe and Brandon Davis accounted for much of Illinois’ success on the court in 2007-08.

With the graduation of the trio, the Illini will need to rely more heavily on senior Marc Spicijaric and junior Billy Heiser.

But head coach Brad Dancer is expecting equal contributions from all of his players this season.

“We historically have not had captains on our team,” Dancer said. “So one thing we talk about is having everyone take on a bit of a leadership role.

That said, Marc is a guy that we’re going to lean on him a lot in terms of being a guy that has a lot of experience.”

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Spicijaric finished his spring 2008 campaign with a 14-11 record in singles play while battling injuries, so for him to vastly improve upon last season is not out of reach.

Heiser showed great flashes of success in singles play but was even better in doubles play, teaming with Rowe to form one of the nation’s top tandems.

But for now, most of the players are working on getting in prime physical shape before setting their sights on upcoming matches.

“The guys are working hard,” Dancer said. “It’s a little early right now, so it’s pretty difficult to keep the guys focused. But at the same time, it’s good that they’re motivated and hungry.”

A big question mark this season will be how well the freshmen fit into the equation.

Ruan Roelofse (South Africa) and Dennis Nevolo (Valencia, Calif.) are two highly-touted freshmen who could contribute early in the year. Also added to the mix is junior transfer Meedo El Tabakh from the University of Mississippi.

“I’m very excited,” Roelofse said about getting an opportunity to play for the Illini.

“I’ve been looking forward to coming to college for eight or nine months, and it’s finally here, so I can’t wait to get started.”

The team knows that hard work now could lead to the success it wants in the spring. And although it’s still early, the players are thinking big now and giving themselves something to work toward.

“We talked about it a little bit,” Roelofse said. “First of all, we just want to get a couple wins in the dual matches.

Then we’ll work on winning the Big Ten and eventually the NCAAs.”

Welcome back

The annual Alumni Reunion event takes place Friday at 6 p.m. at Atkins Tennis Center. Returning to Urbana is a star-studded lineup that includes Kevin Anderson, Ryler DeHeart, Rajeev Ram, Jeff Laski, Chris Martin and 2008 graduate Brandon Davis.

Anderson is fresh off an appearance in the Olympic Games for South Africa, while DeHeart and Ram competed recently in the U.S. Open.

DeHeart played his way into the Open and lost in the second round to No. 1 Rafael Nadal. In addition, the women’s tennis team is welcoming back many of its former greats.

The event will feature former and present Illini on and off the court in a showcase of Illinois tennis legends.

“It’s going to be a great time,” Dancer said. “This is an event that keeps growing and growing. This year Brandon Davis is going to spearhead some of the activities.

It’s just going to be a nice event, especially with Ryler and Rajeev back – we can highlight their success at the U.S. Open a little bit.”