Illinois tennis coaches serve up suprises

By Amber Greviskes

The Illinois men’s tennis team regularly surprises the nation with its NCAA record-winning streak and national titles.

Tuesday, the Illinois coaches shocked the collegiate tennis community when head coach Craig Tiley named Brad Dancer the Illinois associate head coach.

Dancer, who coaches within the United States’ tennis pro league, World Team Tennis, and led the Delaware Smash to the 2003 title, resigned from the men’s head coaching position at Fresno State on Aug. 23.

“We didn’t think we’d be able to pull him away,” said Tiley, who picked from a pool of more than 65 applicants. “He is a great addition to our program and great for our kids.”

Dancer, who led the Bulldogs to NCAA Championships appearances in 2003 and 2004, said he will miss the men he coached at Fresno State but is eager to join the Illini.

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“I’m ecstatic – thrilled to death,” Dancer said. “It was a difficult decision to make – my guys at Fresno State were really classy – but the guys at Illinois seem hungry and eager to win another national title.”

Both coaches feel their styles and personalities will mesh well. Former Illini Rajeev Ram, who worked with Dancer in July while playing as a substitute for the Smash, agrees.

“They’re going to do well together,” Ram said. “Brad has had good experience as a head coach and they will do a good job of complimenting each other’s roles.”

Dancer says he hopes to learn various technical aspects of coaching from Tiley, while drawing on his own ability to get the most out of each player.

“Brad really gets guys fired up,” Ram said. “He’s really easy to get along with. He communicates well with people and is dedicated to working hard and doing things the right way.”

Dancer’s success coaching at the professional level should help the Illinois athletes improve so they can accomplish their goals of playing professionally. Last year, Dancer was named World Team Tennis Coach of the Year. He has also coached 1996 Olympian Mariaan de Swart, who hails from Tiley’s native country of South Africa.

“My experience with World Team Tennis has given me another opportunity to continue testing the boundaries of professional (team structure) at the collegiate level,” Dancer said.

As well as helping prepare athletes for professional competition, Dancer understands the intricacies of Big Ten athletics. During his senior season at Michigan State, Dancer won All-Big Ten honors. He was also a four-year member of the Academic All-Big Ten team, earning his business degree in 1993.

Besides returning to the conference where he began his career, Dancer is also moving closer to home. Dancer’s family resides in Mason, Mich., near Michigan State University.

Although the coaches have known each other for 11 years, Tiley still considers it a coup that Illinois was able to attract someone with Dancer’s qualifications.

“I hoped that at some point our careers would be able to circle back to each other,” Tiley said. “Each year our goal is to win a national championship, and with the addition of Brad to our program, that will further our ability to do so.”