Illinois men’s tennis to close out fall season at Iowa City

By Lucas Wright

Time has almost run out on the fall season, and the Illinois men’s tennis team has one last shot to make a statement before winter break.

The Illini will take to the courts for the final time as a team in 2015 at the Big Ten Singles tournament this weekend in Iowa City, Iowa.

Illinois has performed well across the board at its previous events, but there has been a noticeable lack of production from the team’s youngest players. Highly touted freshmen Asher Hirsch and Pengxuan Jiang have yet to string together impressive performances, but according to sophomore Aron Hiltzik, the two are progressing in other areas of play, especially Hirsch.

“He kind of arrived in pretty poor shape physically, and didn’t have too great of endurance,” Hiltzik said. “Brad (Dancer) assigned me as his mentor to help him with things and help push him to work hard, and that has helped him a lot, I think.”

Head coach Brad Dancer echoed Hiltzik’s comments, and Dancer believes the next steps in Hirsch and Jiang’s careers are to perform at more prominent competitions.

“Asher has got to get in the moment more, compete and not get as caught up on everything else,” Dancer said. “The guidelines are the same for Aiden (Jiang). I think for the freshmen there was such an emphasis on improving so many things that it would be good for them to go out and just play in the moment.”

Redshirt freshman Pablo Landa, sophomore Toshiki Matsuya and redshirt junior Alex Jesse will join Jiang and Hirsch in Iowa City in the draw.

Outside of the Big Ten play, the Illini will be represented on the pro tour in the coming week. Senior Jared Hiltzik and sophomore Aron Hiltzik will be competing at the Knoxville Challenger. Notably absent from the lineup is redshirt junior Julian Childers, who will end his fall season with his top-16 finish at the Midwest Regional.

The $50,000 event will take place from Nov. 10-15, qualifying is Nov. 8-9.

Aron will have to fight through the qualifying if he plans making it to the main draw, and Dancer says that the level of play will be a challenge.

“It’s hard to say how they’ll do, since it’s a pro event,” Dancer said. “They’re going there to pick up pro points so they’ve simply just got to win matches.”

As the fall season winds down, Dancer says he has the same expectations for the team that he did at the beginning of the season.

“Holistically, we’re expecting the guys to go out and compete their tails off and represent themselves well.”

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