Illinois men’s tennis hosts No. 7 Florida in Indoor Championship preview

Illinois mens tennis hosts No. 7 Florida in Indoor Championship preview

By Alex Iniguez

The No. 13 Illini men’s tennis team will get another sneak peek of what this weekend’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Men’s Team Indoor Championships may bring when No. 7 Florida comes to town on Tuesday.

Illinois (4-2) will square off against the Gators before joining a field of 16 teams in Chicago on Friday that includes both schools, as well as three others that Illinois has faced this season – No. 23 Pepperdine, No. 5 Virginia and No. 8 Tennessee. But the Orange and Blue are focused on just one team until then – the team from Gainesville, Fla.

The Gators will arrive at Atkins Tennis Center with a perfect 5-0 record, including an impressive 7-0 win over then-No. 7 Baylor in late January. Florida’s success is driven by a young core of talented players, as the Gators have five sophomores, two freshmen and zero seniors on their nine-man roster.

Sophomore Alex Lacroix and freshman Carlos Gonzalez De Cueto have led the way most of the season at the No. 1 singles spot. Illinois freshman Dennis Nevolo played at the same position last weekend against Duke and Tennessee, so there is a potential freshman slugfest atop the lineup.

“I know a couple guys on their team,” Nevolo said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of help playing here. We played well (against Tennessee), but I think we’re capable of playing much better. If we do, we’ll have a shot.”

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Despite the relative inexperience on its roster, Florida is one of the best teams in the nation. The Gators will be out to prove themselves once again Tuesday night.

“It’s hard for them to come up here and play,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “But at the same time, they happen to have some guys on their team that, even though they train outside, are more indoor-style players. They’re one of the teams everyone’s talking about. They’re hot, they’re confident. We’ll have to come out and certainly play better in doubles and have the same kind of effort (as against Tennessee) in singles.”

Illinois swept Duke in doubles play Friday night but had a role reversal Saturday against Tennessee. The Illini were swept in doubles in both of their losses this season.

“The doubles point is obviously important, but it’s not everything,” senior Marc Spicijaric said. “There’s going to be times this year when we lose the doubles point, but we have to come back and fight.”

Bragging rights will be on the line when the two teams take to the court, as one team will be boasting at next week’s National Indoor Championships.

“I know the coaches well and I’m really good friends with one of the guys on the team,” Spicijaric said.

“They really want to beat us. It’s a really fun match when we play them. We don’t want to lose to Florida.”