Success is the norm for Illini men’s tennis


Illinois’ Jared Hiltzik hits the ball during the match against No. 8 Texas at Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday, Feb. 9. The Illini won 4-3.

Sustained success is the status quo for Illinois men’s tennis.

The Big Ten tournament begins this Thursday at Michigan State, and the Illini will compete as a sizzling No. 2 seed. They’ve won seven matches in a row to bring their final regular season record to 20-7, which complements a conference record of 9-2. They trail only perennial tennis juggernaut and nationally No. 1 ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten Standings.

Head coach Brad Dancer has quietly constructed another strong roster that could be a force in the postseason. His team hasn’t necessarily grabbed headlines or garnered widespread attention, but the Illini are once again getting the job done in Dancer’s ninth season at the helm.

It’s okay to be impressed, but you shouldn’t be surprised. The Illini have enjoyed success for nearly two decades straight on the tennis court, highlighted by winning the National Championship in 2003. Under Dancer, the Illini have maintained a streak of 18 straight NCAA tournament appearances, and should coast to their 19th consecutive appearance regardless of how they do in the Big Ten tournament.  

Last season, Illinois hosted the NCAA Championships on its home court in Urbana. The Illini failed to qualify, bowing out in the Second Round of the NCAA tournament. It was only the second time in 12 years that the Illini did not reach the Sweet 16.  While it was considered a disappointment that they were unable to qualify for the Round of 16, think about what that says about the state of the program as a whole. In this era of Illinois tennis, the NCAA tournament is more an expectation than a privilege.

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When compared to some other sports at Illinois, men’s tennis is a powerhouse. A winning record is essentially a given. I would love for the Illinois basketball program to get to a similar level. At this point, a “down year” in Illinois tennis would be considered a successful season in basketball if the overall team record and accomplishments were translated to the hoops program.

Heading into the postseason, the Illini sit at No. 10 in the country. Year after year, the Illini pop up in the national rankings that are normally loaded with southern and warm-weather schools. This season has been no different, as they peaked in the rankings at No. 6 in mid-March.

Dancer’s 2014 Illini team has been fueled in part by sophomore Jared Hiltzik, who made it to the Round of 32 in the NCAA singles tournament last year as a freshman. The 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year’s 27-9 overall record has complemented the strides made by juniors Farris Gosea and Tim Kopinski, who racked up 33 and 31 wins this year, respectively.

The lineup has nicely taken shape with a mix of youth and experience, and looks to be solid for the end of this season and through the next. The roster features no seniors, and the experience that Dancer’s young squad gained these last two seasons should pay off.

Can Dancer’s squad make the leap and become elite? We’ll have to see. The roster next season will be loaded with upperclassmen who will have lots of postseason experience. But regardless of how the Illini fare this postseason, you should feel confident about the future. If recent history has told us one thing, it’s that Illinois tennis will be good again next year.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and @aroux94.