Illinois set to compete in Big Ten Tournament as top seed in West division


Cameron Krasucki

The Illinois men’s tennis team cheers for a teammate during a match against Minnesota April 4. The team’s Big Ten Tournament campaign starts Friday in Lincoln,

By Enji Erdenekhuyag, Staff Writer

Having sealed off its regular season this past Saturday, the Illinois men’s tennis team doesn’t have much time to soak that in, as it’s rolling right into the next set of challenges in the postseason. The team’s Big Ten Tournament campaign will begin this weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Illini’s hot streak put sthem in a relatively notable position heading into the tournament. With its 18-2 overall record, Illinois has racked up a stack of distinctions, both on the team and individual levels. From its Big Ten West division championship to its players who forged the foundation from which wins could stem, Illinois’ work has amassed to this weekend.
“You have to be consistent,” said head coach Brad Dancer about the team’s journey. “You have to figure out ways to get through all the little problems that come up along the way, and super proud of these guys for getting through that. Besides, 15-1 record in the conference is nothing to shake a stick at.”
Being the top-ranked and top-seeded team with a first-round bye, Illinois will play the winner of the Indiana-Wisconsin match. When looking at potential matchups, Illinois swept Indiana 4-0 last weekend and defeated Wisconsin 6-1 three times throughout the season. If Illinois is to advance against either team, it could possibly compete against championship contenders like Michigan and Minnesota, of which both had regal regular seasons of their own.
Ohio State served Illinois its sole conference loss of the season and is likely to make a deep run in the tournament. The Buckeyes have dominated the Big Ten title, winning it in each of the last four seasons, aside from 2020 since the tournament was canceled. And if history repeats itself, Ohio State could take home the honor once again — but with its players teeming with ambition, Illinois hopes to stunt that streak, and it all starts with Indiana or Wisconsin.
In preparation for the weekend, Dancer will hone in on improvements for each player and hash out inconsistencies with the team’s service points, particularly in doubles play.
“I think it’s gonna come down to guys holding themselves accountable for how they serve — that’s a big one for us,” Dancer said. “If we can hold serve, I think all three of our teams can break teams, so … the biggest component out of that, no question, is how we go out there and do the best we can in getting ready to hold serve.”
As most of its players are in their fourth or fifth years, Illinois’ veteran-heavy lineup will give it an edge. Not only can they finish out close matches, but their experience in tournaments will go a long way in giving the team an extra boost.
With leadership like that, Dancer isn’t too worried about how the team will perform as a whole this weekend. Instead, he’d rather focus on keeping the postseason as light as possible in terms of the stress that goes along with it.
“To be honest, now that they’ve set such a good tone for the whole season, it’s really gonna be about having everybody stay relaxed,” Dancer said. “You know, this is now the time where you can’t get too caught up or too bogged down, and ‘Hey, we’ve gotta do this extra special’ or anything else.
“The seniors have been just fantastic all year long, so I think for us it’s a matter of making sure everyone is prepared, but keeping things loose as well. And remember, we do all this because it’s fun.”
Illinois’ first match will start at 2 p.m. central time Friday. If the Illini win, they will continue to play in the semifinals at 2 p.m. Saturday. The final will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday and will air on Big Ten Network.

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