Illini men’s tennis heads to Columbus for Midwest Regional Championship



By Alex Iniguez

In the biggest tournament of the fall season, the Illinois men’s tennis team is headed to a familiar place. Big Ten rival Ohio State is hosting the 2008 Wilson/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Midwest Regional Championship this weekend.

Eight Illini are making the trip, including senior Marc Spicijaric, junior Billy Heiser and the team’s two freshmen Dennis Nevolo and Ruan Roelofse.

The two freshmen are coming off an impressive outing at the Racquet Club Collegiate Invitational in Midland, Texas. Roelofse defeated Nevolo in the final, 6-4, 7-6 (6).

“I’m expecting a really strong tournament,” Spicijaric said. “We have a lot of guys going. So hopefully we can get an all-Illini final and get a lot of guys going deep into the tournament.”

Roelofse and Nevolo have performed well this season. At the JSM Challenger Pre-Qualifier at Atkins Tennis Center, Nevolo bested Roelofse in three sets, 3-6, 7-6, 6-3, to secure a wildcard entry into the JSM Challenger, held at Atkins from Nov. 9-16.

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“They’ve been taking advantage of every opportunity that’s been given to them,” assistant coach George Husack said. “That’s what they came in wanting to do. They’re taking advantage of it, and obviously I think the results are showing.”

Roelofse will join Heiser for doubles play, while Nevolo will be paired with Spicijaric. Heiser is ranked No. 70 in the preseason singles polls, while Spicijaric rounds out the ranked Illini at No. 110.

Spicijaric and sophomore Roy Kalmanovich competed in the D’Novo Men’s All-American Championship from Oct. 6-12 in Tulsa, Okla.

Spicijaric lost in qualifying play, while Kalmanovich lost in the first round of the main draw.

The sophomore bounced back in the consolation bracket with a 6-2, 6-2 victory against preseason No. 15 Bassam Beidas of Pepperdine.

Kalmanovich will team up with fellow sophomore Waylon Chin for doubles competition this weekend.

Last season, Ohio State’s Bryan Koniecko won the Midwest Regional Championship against Illinois alum Ryan Rowe when Rowe retired due to injury. This year, it’s the new guys’ time to shine.

“I’m excited to see Dennis and Ruan because they were on their own last weekend,” Husack said. “And I’m excited to see Billy get out there again.”

But that’s not to say Husack isn’t looking forward to seeing the other players. He’s pointing to this tournament as a big step in the team’s progress.

“We’ve got eight guys in the event,” Husack said. “And this is tournament three or four for a lot of the guys, so I think right now the expectations are a lot higher than they would’ve been earlier like in September when we were just starting out. Guys have a good feel for their games and what they’ve been working on in the last few weeks.”

If the players do indeed have a good feel for their games, they hope to have success this weekend.

“We’re bringing guys there to win the event,” Husack added. “I think that’s the expectation for everyone that’s going.”