CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Fighting Illini men’s tennis team will open the 2013 season ranked 16th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings after securing a trip to the NCAA round of 16 last year where they fell to eventual champion USC. The Orange and Blue will return five players from last year’s squad, who went 19-8, 8-3 in Big Ten play and 9-1 at the Atkins Tennis Center in Urbana. The 2012 season was highlighted by winning their first Big Ten Tournament Title in seven years after a dramatic comeback win over six-time defending champion No. 3 Ohio State.
The Illini will have to fill the hole that was left by graduates Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich. Last year, Nevolo earned his second career All-America honor last year along with finishing his career tied for sixth in career singles (116) and combined wins (211) and ranked ninth in doubles victories (95). Nevolo, who reached a career high No. 2 in the national singles rankings, reached the round of 16 in both the NCAA singles and doubles championships.
“It’s a huge loss, said head coach Brad Dancer. “Both Nevolo and Kalmanovich played a one-two punch for us and gave the team an edge in any match. We look to fill that void this year by committee. This Illini squad will need to exhibit great work ethic and character.”
Illinois can turn to youth in freshman Jared Hiltzik to immediately step up and answer the call for the Orange and Blue. Hiltzik, a 6-1 Wilmette native, ranked first in the nation by TennisRecruiting.net. Entering the spring season, ITA has Hiltzik ranked 114th in singles, the lone Illini to crack the Top-123. In addition, Hiltzik was ranked 10th in the ITA Midwest poll. In his debut with the Illini, Hiltzik went 10-5 overall, ending the fall season on a three match win streak.
“Jared really dedicated himself to tennis two years ago and last year we saw good results. Going forward, it’s key for him to keep focus on where he wants to go. Future success depends on whether or not he can keep a clear direction. ”
Rounding out the freshmen class are Brian Page, Alex Jesse and Julian Childers. Page, a Wheaton native, was ranked 11th in the nation by TennisRecruiting.net. Jesse, from Mequon, Wis., was a three-time runner-up at state and 2010 state champion. Finally, Childers, a Matteson native, graduated from Marion Catholic, where he won the conference tournament four years in a row and was an All-State tennis player for three years running.
“The freshmen class is a fun group. They have a fun spirt and work hard. However, they do need to grow up physically and emotionally. Freshmen usually require time to tune their game, which we don’t have. How they handle the pressure and the preparedness they have for every match will be a major contributor to our overall success.“
Continuing with the youth movement theme of the squad are sophomore returnees Farris Gosea, Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon.
Named the player to watch and most improved by his teammates, Kopinski led the team with 22 doubles wins. Kopinski also posted 25 singles wins, which tied for second most on the team, including a key victory over No. 115 Ille Van Engelen of Ohio State to help the Illini to the Big Ten Tournament Title over the third ranked Buckeyes. In the current ITA MIdwest rankings, Kopinski came in at No. 12.
After joining the team last January to start the spring season, Gosea captured 11 singles and 13 doubles wins and reached a career high No. 61 alongside Dennis Nevolo in the national double rankings on March 27. This season, the duo of of Kopinski and Gosea are ranked 56th in ITA’s first doubles rankings of the year and ranked second in the Midwest.
“Kopinski is a very driven young man. He needs to focus on his overall goals and what he wants to accomplish. If he develops his understanding, he’ll become more and more dangerous, but undoubtedly, his worth ethic is unmatched.”
“At times, Gosea has done a great job being a leader and sometimes he loses his way. He needs to focus on being consistent and improving his day to day methodology.”
Guignon captured 11 singles wins and 18 doubles wins in his debut season and played mostly No. 6 singles and No. 2 doubles. His 4-2 win over Minnesota resulted in his lone conference victory in the spring. Meanwhile, Guignon and Kopinski led the squad as the winningest doubles tandem with 16 victories.
“Guignon has completely retooled his game since he’s been here, developing weapons to expand his arsenal. He is a natural leader in all aspects for the team. If he can fine tune his game, he will be a great tennis player.”
Providing experience and veteran leadership to the 2013 Illini are seniors Bruno Abdelnour and Stephen Hoh.
Abdelnour tied for second on the team with a career high 25 singles victories, playing at Nos. 3 and 4. Abdelnour ended the season ranked 15th regionally.
“Bruno is the consummate student athlete as he exudes true professionalism . He loves to battle and he wants to be out on the court fighting for the Illini. His character will help drive this team.”
2012 witnessed Hoh capture a career high 23 wins and ranked No. 20 regionally at the end of the season. Pairing up with his fellow senior, Hoh and Abdelnour secured the Illini’s only win in its Sweet 16 match against No. 1 USC. Hoh also spent his junior campaign competing in the ITA All-American Championships after earning a wild card for winning the USTA/ITA National Summer Championships. Hoh currently holds the No. 11 spot in the Midwest rankings.
“Stephen is starting to peel out of his own skin as he is developing more of an identity and more of his own personality out there. He has the skills to be great.”
The 2013 campaign kicks off Jan. 11 at the Illini open in Fort Myers, Fla. Joining Illinois in the opening tournament will be No. 40 North Carolina State, No. 12 Florida and No. 59 Georgia Tech. Illinois’ home opener takes place Jan. 25-26 when they host No. 19 Tennessee and No. 18 North Carolina in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend.
The Illini are one of four Big Ten schools to crack the Top-25, the third most of all conferences, joining No. 4 Ohio State, No. 20 Michigan and No. 22 Indiana.
The Big Ten Tournament is slated for April 25-28 in Columbus, Ohio, while the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament will take place May 10-12. Furthermore, the University of Illinois and the Atkins Tennis Center have the distinct pleasure of hosting the NCAA Championships starting on May 16.
2013 Quick Facts