Illinois men’s tennis rookies bring energy, diversity

By Lucas Wright

Two new faces have sprung onto the scene for the Illinois men’s tennis team this season.

Freshmen Asher Hirsch of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Pengxuan Jiang of Tian Jin, China, are two new candidates to play key roles for the Illini.

The freshmen will have large shoes to fill considering the team lost four seniors from last year’s squad, including Farris Gosea, one of two Illini to qualify for the NCAA Singles Tournament. Returner Jared Hiltzik also made the tournament.

The freshmen were top-100 recruits and were five-star recruits, according to Hirsch was a two-time Ohio state champion in high school and was a round of 16 qualifier at the Clay Court Nationals.

On the flip side, Jiang also bolstered an impressive resumé during his time in China and his high school career in California. Jiang won the Chinese nationals in singles and doubles for 14U and 16U. Jiang also spent some time ranked in the top two in China during his 14U and 16U days.

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Along with being from opposite sides of the world and coming from different cultures, head coach Brad Dancer says the duo brings unique skill sets to the table. He was particularly interested with Hirsch’s abilities.

“I think Asher is a primetime player; he loves being in the spotlight and playing in big moments,” Dancer said. “We feel like there is a tremendous amount of growth immediately that he can have and I think a lot of that is going to be strength and confidence in himself.”

Hirsch is looking forward to this season and says that he is ready to thrive in whatever position Dancer puts in him.

“I just want to have as great of an impact on the team as I can,” Hirsch said. “Whether that means being a lineup player or not, I just want to do everything I can to help this team.”

Dancer has high hopes for Jiang also, but he acknowledged that there would be some difficulties for Jiang with his transition into college.

“He is a natural tennis player, and we think he is going to blossom with the competition he is going to face here,” Dancer said. “We recognize the challenges and difficulties we will face with him from an academic standpoint but it is a transition we are going to moderate from here on out.”

Despite the fact that the two have just arrived at Illinois, Dancer has high expectations right out of the gate.

“If we feel like they aren’t ready when the first competition comes around in September we’ll reevaluate them,” Dancer said. “Right now our intent is to have these guys step in and face competition right away.”

The duo won’t step into the limelight until after team practices start in September, but this has not stopped Hirsch from looking ahead into his college career. He has not made any secret of what he expects during his college career.

He wants to be an All-American by his senior year.

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