Illinois native Blake Bazarnik returns home, looking to make imprint

Blake Bazarnik is back home in Illinois. The Illini men’s tennis team’s newest member has come full-circle back to the state where he was born. After two seasons at Vanderbilt, Bazarnik transferred to Illinois and is ready renew his college tennis career.

“When I was ready to transfer, there really was no other place I was willing to go to other than Illinois,” he said. “I’m also a lot closer to home, so I’m looking forward to have my parents see me play a lot more often.”

Bazarnik is no stranger to the Illinois tennis scene. He attended Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., where he earned four varsity letters. His biggest high school tennis exploit came in 2009. That year, Bazarnik won the Illinois state singles championship as a junior.

“I would easily say that is one of my fondest moments of my tennis career,” he said. “I was down in the third set and had to find a way to come back. That will always be a memory for me, and it has had a big impact me as a player.”

Although Bazarnik was originally recruited to play tennis at Illinois, he ended up choosing Vanderbilt. He cited that at the time he thought it was the right fit for him. Bazarnik went on to say that if he were able to redo his decision, he would have chosen Illinois.

He said that after two years at Vanderbilt, he did not think that continuing to play there was a wise move. Bazarnik no longer saw Vanderbilt as the right place for him to build his tennis career.

“To be honest, I really regret not coming to Illinois right away,” he said. “That said though, I’m excited to have two years of eligibility left at Illinois and now realize it was probably the best fit for me all along.”

Since his high school days, Bazarnik was always on the radar of head coach Brad Dancer. As a recruit, he had a No. 10 national ranking and No. 4 ranking in the Great Lakes region, according to tennisrecruiting.net.

“When he was in high school, Blake was one of the top high school prospects I’d seen in my tenure as coach,” he said. “While we were certainly disappointed not to land him a few years back, we’re all very happy to welcome him in an Illinois uniform.”

The prospect of playing under the direction of Dancer and assistant coach Marcos Asse played a significant role in Bazarnik’s decision to transfer. He and Dancer have had a relationship since he was recruited, which is something Bazarnik strongly factored into his decision. Ultimately, his discussions with Dancer during the transfer process went far into his decision to officially declare Illinois as his transfer destination.

“The coaching staff here at Illinois, in my mind, is probably one of the best in the country,” he said. “I knew that if I came here, they would allow me to unlock the potential I probably wouldn’t have had at Vanderbilt.”

Bazarnik comes to the Illini as the oldest member on the team, as he turns 22 in November. At Vanderbilt, he played in two NCAA championship tournaments in 2011 and 2012. Along with his postseason tennis experience, Bazarnik also cited the competitive nature and the hostile crowds of the SEC as experiences that will allow him to serve as a mentor for the players younger than him. Furthermore, he said two years of playing in the SEC will prepare him well for the even tougher competition he expects to face in the Big Ten.

Dancer noted that Bazarnik’s knowledge of the game and his versatility on the court are qualities that he will bring to the team.

“Blake is a very knowledgeable and smart player on the court,” he said. “He’s also a very versatile player which makes him a tough matchup for whomever he faces.”

Bazarnik has already made a strong impression upon his teammates.

“On this team, we talk about building our team culture and he is somebody who pushes that culture in the right direction,” junior Ross Guignon said. “He has a great character, and is already fitting in like he’s been here since he was a freshman.”

Guignon also said he expects big things on the tennis court from Bazarnik.

“He’s been a force to be reckoned with his entire life, and I can’t wait to see what kind of damage he does in the Big Ten,” he said.

Bazarnik’s biggest goal throughout the next two years as an Illini is to do all that he can to help the program. Though he understands it is a challenge, he sees the team culture as a major benefit for his new team.

“The culture here is incredible, the guys really value team success,” he said. “The entire team strives to help each other out and do all they can do for the benefit of each other. That’s the type of team I’m excited to be a part of.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @danescalona77.