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Hawaii's Andre Ilagan closes the show with another NCAA trip

May 21—A journey that began on the courts at Kalakaua District Park will lead Andre Ilagan to Orlando, Fla., and a place in University of Hawaii tennis history.

A journey that began on the courts at Kalakaua District Park will lead Andre Ilagan to Orlando, Fla., and a place in University of Hawaii tennis history.

Already one of the program's most decorated performers, the Farrington graduate will add to his list of accomplishments on Monday when he takes the court in the NCAA Division I Men's Singles Championship for the second straight year.

Ilagan is the first UH player to twice earn a spot in the NCAA bracket and will close his collegiate career at the USTA National Campus. But reflection on his growing collection of school and conference distinctions can wait as he savors his final week wearing Rainbow Warrior gear.

"I'm just taking it day-by-day and living in the moment, " Ilagan said as he prepared for the tournament. "Because I know this is my last week here for a while and representing Hawaii."

Ilagan (16-3 in singles ) earned the Big West's automatic bid in the 64-player draw as the conference's highest-ranked player. He left for Florida on Friday, along with UH coach Joel Kusnierz, and will learn his opponent when the draw is revealed today.

The tournament opens Monday and runs through Saturday, and Ilagan made the trip to Central Florida carrying a No. 65 national ranking, a 15-match winning streak and the lessons of last year's tournament.

"Experience matters a lot, " Kusnierz said. "A lot of those guys are able to execute many of the same shots, but it comes down to whether someone is able to do that when it matters.

"Andre's done it, he's played the best in the country, he was there last year and had a close match. ... I think the record he has speaks for itself—being undefeated in conference, beating a lot of ranked players. I really think that confidence can help him out for sure."

Last season, Ilagan became the second UH player to earn a berth in the NCAA singles tournament and the first since Andreas Weber was awarded an at-large bid in 2007.

He was also just the third men's tennis player to receive the Bonham Award, the UH athletic department's most prestigious honor, which goes to the school's top senior athlete. He was also named the school's 2022 Male Athlete of the Year and was the third Warrior to be named Big West Player of the Year.

He ended the 2022 season with a three-set loss to Alabama's Filip Planinsek, fending off two match points in the second set before Planinsek closed out a 6-3, 6-7 (6 ), 6-0 win in Champaign, Ill.

Ilagan had elected to return to UH for a fifth year and another opportunity to compete with the Warriors and continue his progression.

"Coming back for the team was probably the No. 1 reason (to return ), and Coach Joel as well, " Ilagan said. "I always told myself if I'm not getting better here that's when I leave. But I'm still improving here, so why would I leave ?"

He entered his super-senior season at No. 41 in the country, but opened with a 1-3 start in January. He fell to No. 12 Antoine Comut-Charuvinc of Florida State in a tiebreak on Jan. 6 in his first match of the spring season and also lost to No. 4 Garrett Johns of Duke on Jan. 10.

But after a loss to Alexander Hoogmartens of UCLA on Jan. 20, Ilagan reeled off 15 consecutive victories through the Big West tournament, where the Warriors reached the semifinals before being eliminated by UC Santa Barbara.

Just the sixth player to earn first-team All-Big West honors four times, Ilagan returns to the NCAA singles tournament with the momentum of the winning streak and fueled by the experiences to close the 2022 season and the start of 2023.

"I think (I'm ) more hungry, " Ilagan said. "I know I can possibly win these matches, so I just want to go out there and give it my all and have no regrets out there."

Ilagan plans to pursue professional tennis after finishing his collegiate career. Although he'll leave UH with a lengthy list of honors, his place in the program's record book remains a secondary measure for Ilagan.

"It's cool that I made all these accomplishments, but again it's just about being better as a person, that's all I really care about, " Ilagan said. "My parents always told me it's not about the wins, but it's the amount of things you do off the court."