No. 7 Illini men’s tennis travels to Texas A&M; for possible Championships preview


Freshman Dennis Nevolo returns the ball in a doubles match against Tennessee on Feb. 9 at the Atkins Tennis Center. Dean Santarinala

By Alex Iniguez

May 15 is on the minds of the No. 7 Illinois men’s tennis team this weekend, as that date marks the beginning of quarterfinal play at the NCAA Championships in College Station, Texas.

Sunday’s trip to the Lone Star State to duke it out with No. 18 Texas A&M; will provide the Illini with a look at the championship courts the team hopes to return to in mid-May.

“We gotta earn our way back there,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said. “That’s the reason we scheduled A&M;, and we’ve done that in the past with Stanford and Georgia. We try to play those guys on the road so that if we make it back there, we’ve already been there. It also gives our guys a chance to see what they’re working toward.”

The match with Texas A&M; (5-4) ushers in the outdoor portion of the schedule, and Illinois (13-3, 2-0 Big Ten) is ready to get away from chilly Urbana and prove it’s a better team playing outdoors than inside. The Illini are noticeably and admittedly excited about moving their game outside, barring inclement weather.

“I feel a little more comfortable outside. I think a lot of the guys do,” freshman Dennis Nevolo said. “It gives me a little more time to execute. We’ll have a few days to get used to the weather once we get down there, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

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    The Illini will encounter a familiar face in College Station. Calon Alpar transferred to Texas A&M; at the beginning of the spring semester after never playing a dual match for the Orange and Blue and posting a 5-7 singles record in two years of fall tournament play. The Austin, Texas, native has yet to crack the Aggie lineup since leaving Illinois.

    “I’ve talked to a couple of the guys,” junior Marek Czerwinski said. “I think we’re all excited to go see Calon and how he’s been doing down there. He’s really been missed on our team, especially his humor, so we’re all looking forward to seeing him.”

    Czerwinski was named the Big Ten Player of the Week for the week ending March 8 after posting a combined 4-0 record in singles and doubles against No. 44 Northwestern and No. 19 Wisconsin. Czerwinski is the third Illini player to receive the award this season.

    “It was a definite shock to me,” Czerwinski said. “A couple people told me that I got the award, and I was honored to get it. There’s still a long season to go, so hopefully I can get a couple more.”

    Texas A&M; has a challenging schedule this weekend, as they are set to host No. 3 Ohio State on Friday before facing off against the Illini. The Aggies are led by sophomore Wil Spencer and senior Conor Pollock. Spencer, ranked No. 22, boasts a 5-4 record, while No. 24 Pollock holds a 4-5 record at the No. 1 singles position.

    “Our guys are pretty loose right now,” Czerwinski said.

    “We haven’t talked too much about the match yet, but we’re all focused on working hard and getting ourselves ready to play. We’ll be talking about it a lot more once we’re on our way there, though.”