Illinois looks to continue winning streak against Iowa, Nebraska 


Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Redshirt freshman Alex Bancila celebrates after scoring during the meet against Purdue on Feb. 19. Illinois will play Iowa tonight.

By Enji Erdenekhuyag, Contributing Writer

The Illinois men’s tennis team will welcome Iowa Friday and Nebraska Sunday for matches at Atkins Tennis Center.

Last weekend, the No. 8 Illini went on the road for the first time this season and brought home wins against Wisconsin (6-1) and Minnesota (5-2). As the roster weighs heavy with returning players, veterans like senior Zeke Clark and redshirt junior Alex Brown lead the team in singles and doubles play.

“We’ve got some great leaders up top that I think set a tremendous example for the rest of the guys, and this was a weekend where our upperclassmen really lead the charge all weekend long,” said head coach Brad Dancer.

Illinois, however, wasn’t the only team having a successful weekend. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers — Illinois’ next opponent — 5-2, making it their third straight win. The Hawkeyes also finished their two earlier matches with strong wins: 5-2 against the Hoosiers and 4-0 against the Boilermakers. Iowa currently holds a 3-2 record.

On Aug. 21, Iowa announced it was terminating four sports — men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis and men’s and women’s swimming and diving — as a result of financial deficits brought on by the pandemic. The 2021 season will be the last for the Hawkeyes men’s tennis team.

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“It’s really a shame because I think that their coach is doing a great job, and they’re on the up-and-up, and now, they’re a program that has been cut,” Dancer said. “So, I think that they’re on a little bit of a mission to say that, ‘This is our last year and this is what we’re gonna do in our last year.’

“Iowa’s got a good team. … We respect their coaches, and we respect their team members. So, for us, it’ll be about getting our guys into the right mental space and ready to go on Friday.”

Following a brief break, the Illini will return to action with matches against the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is having a relatively slow start to its season, as its record sits at 0-3. Of their three matches, the team captured the doubles point once against Purdue on Feb. 19. Despite the loss to Iowa last Sunday, Nebraska came off with two wins in singles play. Before the Cornhuskers head to Urbana, they will travel to Evanston to face off against Northwestern Friday.

With two teams arriving, the Illini look to build on their achievements, as the team will continuously strive to compete with determination.

“Everybody always talks about expectations, and obviously, for us, it’s to perform at our best on those days given the circumstances,” Dancer said.

Matches begin Friday at 5 p.m. Central Time and Sunday at noon Central Time.

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