NCAA tennis: Twins double trouble
URBANA — Melissa Kopinski is older than her brother Tim.
By a minute.
She likes to point that out to anyone who asks about the fraternal twins, who will compete for Illinois when the doubles part of the NCAA Championships begins this week at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex.
“I didn’t (use it much) when I was taller, but then he got taller than me,” Melissa said. “So I use it now.”
The 19-year-old Kopinski twins developed their tennis skills at an early age growing up in Chicago and one of its suburbs, Palos Hills.
The only two children of Polish immigrants Jan and Zofia Kopinski, they started tennis when they were toddlers and started playing more competitively a decade ago.
“They made us pick a sport we could both play with each other so we couldn’t get bored,” Melissa said.
Tim Kopinski will team with Ross Guignon while Melissa Kopinski will pair up with Rachael White to represent the Illini at the NCAA Championships. Pairings for the doubles tournament are slated to come out today.
“It’s going to hit me the second we get on the court,” Melissa said. “I’m hoping we get night matches right next to each other. That is my dream.”
The plan wasn’t necessarily for the twins to play and attend the same school. Illinois men’s tennis coach Brad Dancer and UI women’s coach Michelle Dasso are glad both headed south to Champaign-Urbana after excelling at Stagg High School.
Melissa placed fourth in singles at the 2010 state meet, while Tim placed fourth in 2011 and second in 2010.
“I saw her play a ton (in high school) and knew she was a great kid,” Dasso said.
“Even being twins, you wanted to separate their recruiting, but I certainly talked to the parents about, ‘Hey, that would make life a little easier by coming on down and seeing two for one.’ Being so close, I was certainly excited they both committed here.”
Tim committed first to Illinois in early June 2011 while Melissa followed in late August 2011.
“I was thinking all along that they would get Melissa and we would try to piggy-back Tim on that,” Dancer said. “Then we got the early commitment from Tim, and so I called Michelle up right away and said, ‘Well, I did my part. See what you can do there.’ ”
They’re the first set of twins to play tennis at Illinois. Getting the chance to play in the NCAA Championships is an added incentive, especially so early in their college careers.
“They’re both phenomenal kids and look what they’ve done,” Dasso said. “To both be in the NCAAs as sophomores is pretty awesome.”
And both have more to improve in their tennis games. When Dancer recruited Tim, he mostly saw him at national junior tournaments.
“It was funny because every time I watched him play, he lost, but every time I was very impressed with his competitive spirit,” Dancer said. “That’s always stood out to me about Tim. He’s kind of a street hustler-type player. As physical as he is, I would equate him to someone like Nate Robinson. He’s just a bulldog. He is not going away, no matter what. That’s probably his No. 1 skill. What we’ve got to do is add skills to his game.”
Dasso said Melissa’s strengths are on the baseline.
“Her confidence level has developed, and I’m looking forward to that continuing to grow the next two years,” the UI coach said. “From the baseline, she can really bang with anyone in the country, in my opinion. She likes to dictate play with that inside-outside forehand. I’m trying to encourage her to get to the net more in singles. Fitnesswise, she has improved a lot since she’s been here, but that is still an area we can continue to work on.”
The twins lived four doors down from each other as freshmen at the now-demolished Garner Hall on campus. Today, it’s a little bit farther away but only by a few blocks.
Aside from their tennis skills, Melissa, a community health major who wants to go into health administration and attend medical school in her parents’ native Poland, and Tim, an undeclared major who is leaning toward physical therapy, are both the first members of their family to attend college.
The twins said that milestone is not lost on their parents.
“They never knew what U.S. college sports were like,” Tim said. “One of the reasons they wanted us to play tennis was to get into a good school and finish school. That’s a big thing for them.”
Tim and Melissa Kopinski aren’t the first sets of twins to suit up for Illinois. Here’s a look at four other notable sets of twins to showcase their skills in Champaign-Urbana:
Susanna and Jenny Kallur
The daughters of former New York Islanders right winger Anders Kallur, who helped the Islanders win four Stanley Cups in the 1980s, excelled on the track at Illinois. The sisters, who were born in New York City and have a Swedish lineage, combined to win five All-America honors during their careers at Illinois in the early 2000s, with both shining in the sprints and hurdles.
Phil and Paul Judson
The brothers played basketball for the Illini in the 1950s after leading tiny Hebron to a state title in 1952. Paul earned first-team All-Big Ten honors during his junior and senior seasons under Harry Combes, while Phil — whose son Rob was an assistant basketball coach at Illinois and is now on staff at Illinois State — lettered on the 1955 and 1956 Illinois teams.
Ryan and Tom Schau
The twins from Bloomington stood out on the offensive line from 1995 to ‘98, with Ryan at tackle and Tom at center. The twins became the first set of brothers to start at Illinois since 1980. Ryan — one of four captains on the 1998 team — went on to play five seasons in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams. Tom spent three years with the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills.
Jordan and Justin Parr
Big brother Josh Parr was the Illini baseball trailblazer in the family, twice earning All-Big Ten honors before moving on to the pros following the 2011 season. Now the twins are carrying on the Parr name at Illinois Field, each making a particular impression at the plate. Last season, Jordan led Illinois (or shared the lead) in seven major offensive categories. This year, Justin set a school record with a 33-game hitting streak and ranks among the national leaders in batting average.