Preseason-No. 26 Nevolo leads Illini to Midwest ITA Regionals

With the fall season beginning to wind down, it’s as good a time as any for Illinois head men’s tennis coach Brad Dancer to take stock of his squad.

“We’ve got a good competitive spirit,” Dancer said. “I think we’ve got a lot of guys on our team now that have a never-say-die attitude. It’s something that’s going to define this team going forward.”

That attitude will be put to the test this week when the Illini send five players to Notre Dame for the Midwest ITA Regionals, where they’ll face top players from around the Midwest.

Junior Dennis Nevolo will lead the group that includes seniors Abe Souza and Connor Roth and sophomores Bruno Abdelnour and Stephen Hoh.

Nevolo, ranked No. 26 in the preseason national poll, is coming off a second-round loss at the D’Novo All-American Championships and an impressive showing at the Napa Valley Invitational, where he shined against top national players.

“Whenever you come off a good tournament you have to feel a little more confident about your game, so I’m just trying to carry that over to the next one,” Nevolo said.

“The competition is going to be very high. I’m just hoping to play a lot of matches and get a lot better throughout the week.”

He’ll enter the tournament seeded fourth overall, and will open play Friday against a winner from the qualifying draw.

The tournament is one that’s been circled on Roth’s calendar for a while.

“It’s all top teams from the region and, for me at least, it’s always one of the biggest tournaments every year,” Roth said.

With his team set to face several talented opponents, one of the main things Dancer will watch for is how his players are able to fine-tune on the fly.

“You always want to see guys making adjustments and finding solutions on the court,” Dancer said.

“That’s something we talk about all the time. I think that’s a pretty big component of tennis.”

The psychological aspects of the game aren’t lost on Roth either, and when he open plays Friday against Marquette’s Dan Mamalat, the senior will attempt to showcase his mental strength.

“It’s the mental part and just being focused, controlling the tempo, taking my time and making sure I put everything into each point,” Roth said.

“As long as I can hold that together, it doesn’t matter how I play.”