Illini men’s tennis develops during fall season

By Lucas Wright

Tweet: [email protected] looking forward to spring after developing youth during fallBy Lucas Wright

The fall season was a learning experience for the Illinois men’s tennis team.

The team established early on in the fall season that it would be without seniors Jared Hiltzik and Brian Page and sophomore Aleks Vukic. The trio decided to compete on the professional level this fall.lb With the threesome out of the lineup, the fall season was a chance for players like sophomore Aron Hiltzik and redshirt junior Julian Childers to step into the limelight.

Aron came into the season as the No. 46 player in the nation and showed he was worthy early on.lb

Despite a rough outing at the Conference Challenge in September, Aron qualified for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Oct. 8. An unseeded Hiltzik took down Amerigo Contini of Virginia Tech in the opening round, to set up a meeting with No. 2 seed Nicolas Alvarez in round two. Hiltzik put together his biggest win of the fall, winning in straight sets, 7-5, 7-5, over the No. 7 player in the country.lb

Even though this was Aron’s biggest win of the fall, he said that it still wasn’t the most important event for him during the season.

“For me, the biggest things have happened behind the scenes for me,” Hiltzik said. “I’ve been working on a few developmental things. I’ve worked on my forehand a lot, and in the future I think it will cause a lot more damage to my opponents.”

Aron also managed to make a run at the Midwest Regional from Oct. 22-26. He strung together three wins before falling to the hot hand of Northwestern’s Strong Kirchheimer.lb The loss left Hiltzik short of qualifying for National Indoors.

Childers burst on to the scene for the Illini with a few strong performances. The redshirt junior claimed the Crusader Invitational title at Valparaiso, Indiana, from Oct. 3-12, blowing out Toledo’s Luka Vitosevic 6-2, 6-0 in the championship.lb

Along with claiming a title, Childers managed two wins in the Midwest Regional and defeated three Harvard players at the Conference Challenge.lb

The final Illini competing on the year was senior Jared Hiltzik, who returned from his professional play to compete at the National Indoors from Nov. 12-15 in Flushing, New York. This year marked Hiltzik’s third appearance in the national tournament — he made a run to the championship match as a sophomore.lb

Garnering the No. 8 seed, Hiltzik dispatched his first two opponents, going to three sets in each match. Yet, Hiltzik was defeated in the quarterfinals by No. 3 seed Dominik Koepfer of Tulane, the eventual champion.lb

The Illini are looking forward to yet another strong spring season, and head coach Brad Dancer said the younger members of the Illini will play a huge part in their success.

“We’ve got guys who haven’t gotten as much of an opportunity to play who will see a lot of time this year,” Dancer said. “I think there is some guys who are chomping at the bit to contribute and help us compete for a Big Ten title.”

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