Illinois men’s tennis welcomes Big Ten rival Ohio State, Chicago State to Atkins Tennis Center

Illinois+Mens+Tennis+head+coach%2C+Brad+Dancer+talks+with+Gabrielius+Guzauskas+duirng+the+Fighting+Illini+Invite+on+Oct.+17.+The+Illini+will+be+up+against+rival+Ohio+State+on+Saturday.+

James Hoeck

Illinois Men’s Tennis head coach, Brad Dancer talks with Gabrielius Guzauskas duirng the Fighting Illini Invite on Oct. 17. The Illini will be up against rival Ohio State on Saturday.

By Drew Friberg, Staff Writer

Just five days after returning from Atlanta for the MLK Invitational, Illinois will take on the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Cougars of Chicago State in its first home matches of the spring season.

The Illini maintained their ranking this previous weekend, still being ranked at No. 23 heading into this Saturday’s matches. After seeing mixed results from the past weekend, however, head coach Brad Dancer was less than satisfied with the Illini’s performance in their spring season-opening weekend.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Dancer said. “We have got to improve. If we can’t improve from now until May, we will be in trouble.”

The biggest headline going into this weekend is that this will be the first time Ohio State and Illinois will play since the Illini’s victory over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship match last year. The Illini have four returning players from that match, while the Buckeyes have five.

Ohio State is coming off two dominant victories over Xavier and Toledo this past weekend and will be coming to Atkins with momentum on its side. Chicago State, on the other hand, is entering Saturday’s match with the Illini with two losses to Northwestern this previous weekend.

Although Illinois’ showing in Atlanta this past weekend was not up to Dancer’s standards, there are still some things to be excited for if you’re a fan of the Illini.

Redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve’s opening weekend was strong, as he went undefeated in singles play and lost just one doubles match to No. 53 pair Brian Cernoch and Mac Kiger of North Carolina.

Sophomore Hunter Heck’s weekend was also impressive, with a win over No. 60 Cernoch in singles. Heck only lost two matches on the weekend: one in singles, and, as Horve’s partner, also lost to No. 53 Cernoch and Kiger.

If this pair can keep their momentum going into Saturday, the Illini will be tough to beat, even by the red hot Buckeyes.

Slightly worrisome for the Illini heading into such big matches is the inability to fully prepare due to health and safety protocols this week. Coach Dancer revealed that preparation for this Saturday has been more challenging than most weeks.

“We’re doing our best,” Dancer said. “We have had some health and safety protocols that have interrupted some things for us this week, so it hasn’t been a normal week for us in terms of how we prepare, but no excuses. We will get as ready as we can for this weekend.”

The action in Champaign starts at noon on Saturday, when the Illini will begin the day with their match against the Buckeyes, followed by the match against Chicago State at 5 p.m.

 

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