Illinois men’s tennis trek to Penn State for second conference match of season

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Sidney Malone

Sophomore Hunter Heck reaches to hit the ball during his singles match during Baylor on March 4. Illinois will be heading to Pennsylvania to go up against Penn State on Sunday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

After falling to No. 3 Ohio State in the team’s first conference match on Friday, the Illini will travel to University Park, Pennsylvania to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Prepping for two away conference matches in one week is tough, especially with the first match being against Ohio State. Head coach Brad Dancer had ideas for how to prepare for this week in practice.

“I think we are going to try and do some things that are a little bit disruptive in practice this week,” Dancer said. “We need to make sure we are a little bit tougher and more ready to deal with things as they come to us.”

While the Buckeyes are one of the top three teams in the nation, the Nittany Lions are far from it. Penn State is currently sitting at 7-8 on the season. Compared to Illinois’ 6-10 record, they look like the better team on paper, but Illinois’ strength of schedule is much greater. 

The Nittany Lions have not beaten a ranked team all season, although they managed to take No. 20 Northwestern all the way a few days ago, just barely losing out 4-3 in their conference opener. Illinois has gotten over that hump, however, beating the previously No. 22 UNC at home in February. The Nittany Lions’ two-loss streak is also in favor of the Illini, as the Illini are still coming off of a huge week in Florida.

Closing out the doubles point will be massive in this match for both teams. The No. 50 pair of sophomore Hunter Heck and redshirt sophomore Lucas Horve lost their Court 1 match in a tiebreaker to lose the doubles point against No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Ohio State. Although those matches ended in blowout victories for their opponents in this case, against the Nittany Lions the match will be a lot closer. Closing out the doubles point will be a determining factor in this team’s chances of success.

Dancer has been impressed with his team’s play of late, citing his team’s growing chemistry on the court as “a really good sign.” If the Illini hope to defend their Big Ten Championship of last season, this match against Penn State is a must-win.

Action in University Park will start at 11 a.m. on Sunday, as the Illini will look to better their 0-1 conference record with a big win against the Nittany Lions.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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