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2003 Illini Men's Team Returns to Celebrate Magical Season

The University of Illinois was host to their first NCAA Division I Tennis Championships in May, and it was fitting that the tournament took place exactly 10 years after the Illini men had a perfect season. In 2003, after winning the National Indoors and Big Ten Championship, the team won the NCAA team title. To cap off the month, Amer Delic took the singles, followed by a doubles crown by teammates Rajeev Ram and Brian Wilson.

University of Illinois - 2003 NCAA Champions
courtesy, Marcia Frost
During this year's NCAA event, nearly all of the team returned - Michael Calkins, Ryler DeHeart, Pramod Dabir, Amer Delic, Chris Martin, Phil Stolt, Brian Wilson, Evan Zeder and Nathan Zeder. (Ram was in Europe as he's still doing well on the professional tour.) They were honored by the university and by fellow alumni. According to men's head coach Brad Dancer, there were over 80 alumni who came on May 18th to celebrate the winningest team in school history.

At the 2003 NCAA Championship, Chris Martin clinched the winning point for the Fighting Illini, but he is one of the few that did not go on to a professional career, choosing instead to go into finance. He made time to come to the reunion, though.

"It's really fun seeing everybody," said Martin, "It's been a long time. Some of these guys I haven't seen since graduation. It's also good to see everybody from the program and everybody who supported us."

Brian Wilson agreed, "It's wonderful. People go through different stages in life, but to be able to have a constant in the family we have here is a truly unique thing. It's unique in the sport of tennis and I also think it's unique in college athletics in general."

"It feels great... this turnout," said Ryler DeHeart, now the assistant men's coach at the University of Alabama. "We couldn't have asked for more. What they've done for us is such an honor. We're happy to be here and represent Illinois tennis and the history here we started. It's just been amazing and I'm and really thankful for everyone. Hopefully, we can continue to have this for years to come."

It was the support of the community and large financial backing from the Atkins and Khan families to build the facilities that paved the way to bring the 2013 NCAAs to Urbana.

Phil Stolt, who did a stint as a volunteer assistant coach under Brad Dancer's team, acknowledged this, "I haven't even been back here in five years, since before this (the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center) was built. I've played at every college campus in the U.S. and this is definitely a top-five facility. It really puts Illinois on the map for future."

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