Illinois sophomore Jared Hiltzik
© Illinois Athletic Communications
Hiltzik earned the No. 8 overall seed in the 2014 NCAA singles tournament.
© Illinois Athletic Communications
By Sally Milano, USTA.com
University of Illinois sophomore Jared Hiltzik has earned the No. 8 seed in the upcoming NCAA singles tournament, taking place May 21-26 in Athens, Ga., following the conclusion of the team championship, which runs May 15-20. The 19-year-old from Wilmette, Ill., earned the automatic berth into the individual tournament as the highest-ranked player in the Big Ten conference. He has had an outstanding sophomore season for the Fighting Illini, entering the postseason on a nine-match winning streak after posting an impressive 29-9 record during the year.
As a freshman, Hiltzik played his way into the No. 1 singles position, where he notched a 13-4 record; he led the team with an overall 29-11 record for the season. Among his many accolades during his rookie year were being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, selected First-Team All-Big Ten and earning three Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week honors. He was also named the Advantage Illinois Most Valuable Player and was an ITA Scholar Athlete.
Hiltzik, a communications major with a specialization in organizational and interpersonal communication at Illinois, received the Scholar Athlete award this season for earning the highest GPA on the Illinois men's tennis team. He recently took time from his busy schedule to discuss his team's perfect record at home this season, the rich tradition of tennis at Illinois, what he thinks about his younger brother joining him on the team next year and much more in the latest College Spotlight.
USTA.com: The Illini men's team has had a great season, going a perfect 11-0 at home. What have been some of the highlights of the year for you?
Jared Hiltzik: I think we owe a huge part of our success at home to our fans. The Net Nuts crew and Champaign-Urbana community have to be among the best fan bases in the country, and we are so honored to have such a strong group of people supporting our tennis. Personally, my biggest accomplishment so far was reaching the final of the National Indoors in New York. It was pretty incredible having both me and our No. 1 doubles team of Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski putting our team in contention to win the tournament. From a team standpoint, we began the year qualifying for National Indoors for the first time in a couple of years. This gave us some confidence going into a homestand in which we beat three Top 10 teams in Texas, Texas A&M and Notre Dame.
USTA.com: What made you choose Illinois when you were deciding on colleges? Since you are a native of Illinois, did you want to stick close to home?
Jared Hiltzik: Illinois was one of the only powerhouse tennis schools to take interest in me. I had a very successful boys’ 12s and 14s career, and by the time I was looking at schools, my ranking had dropped and I was kind of off the radar for top tennis schools. I was mainly looking at Ivy League as well as Division III schools. As soon as Brad (Dancer, head coach) and Marcos (Asse, assistant head coach) showed interest in me, I went down with my parents and immediately fell in love with the school. My goal is to be a professional tennis player and Illinois was the place for me.
USTA.com: What have you enjoyed most about your time at Illinois so far?
Jared Hiltzik: So far at Illinois, I have enjoyed the family-like nature that the school, my teammates and coaches share. Illinois is such an amazing school simply from the relationships that you inherit. Guys on my team are so close with the golfers, gymnasts, track team, volleyball, as well as other students who are not athletes. My team and I have such a great relationship that we actually all live together on the same floor of our apartment building. From a tennis-player standpoint, not only do I believe that we have one of the best facilities in the nation, but the individual attention and support from Brad, Marcos and (Illinois alumni) Ryan Rowe is unbelievable. They all want you to succeed and will do everything in their power to make your dream come true.
USTA.com: Your younger brother, Aron, is a top junior player and has committed to playing for the Fighting Illini next year. What are your thoughts on having him on the team with you?
Jared Hiltzik: I am so excited to have my brother on the team. I didn’t realize how much I would miss him until he moved to JTCC in College Park, Md., to train full time. It’s been really hard only seeing him once a month, and I can’t wait to have him here. Aron already has a great relationship with the guys on the team, and he will fit in great.
USTA.com: Illinois has had a rich tradition of producing tennis pros over the last few years, like Kevin Anderson, Rajeev Ram, Amer Delic and Ryler DeHeart. Do you have any plans to follow in their footsteps after graduating?
Jared Hiltzik: Absolutely. The No. 1 reason why I chose Illinois was because of how many pros have come out of this program. Being part of the Illini family allows me to have communication with Rajeev, Kevin, Amer and Ryler. I know personally I reach out to Kevin two to three times a month and talk about my game to him. There aren’t too many other places where you can have those opportunities. If you want to go to college and improve your game to the professional level, then you go to Illinois.
USTA.com: Is it challenging to balance tennis and academics? How do you do it?
Jared Hiltzik: It is very challenging balancing tennis and academics. When you first get your schedule and talk to your teachers, you really have to hope that they are willing to work with you when you miss class. Last year we were home a lot, so it was easier, but this year we were on the road a bunch, and it really took a toll on a lot of us physically and mentally.
USTA.com: What advice do you have for junior tennis players who are going through the recruiting process?
Jared Hiltzik: The best advice I have for junior players going through the recruiting process is to find a school where the guys on the team and coaches feel like a family. You will love wherever you go if the culture that you and the team have is strong. Really pay attention to the relationship that the guys on the team have with each other because this will be you one day.
USTA.com: What are your goals for yourself and your team this season?
Jared Hiltzik: I think a very attainable goal for both me individually and as a team is to hoist the trophy and win the Big Ten tournament and NCAA championship. Personally, I feel like I have put myself in a position win the singles competition, and as a young team, we are hungry and ready for some postseason action. Go Illini!