Illinois men’s tennis carries fall momentum into the spring

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Sidney Malone

Men’s tennis head coach Brad Dancer walks away after conferring with current sophomores Gabrielius Guzauskas and Karlis Ozolins at a match against Purdue on April 24, 2022. Dancer said that the season started off strong, but the team’s next steps will test their toughness.

By Martin O'Connor, Staff Writer

After a solid fall season, Illinois men’s tennis has opened its 2023 spring season on a high note, currently sitting with a 2-2 record, only losing to top-four teams. The team picked up 16 wins to start the season at the Sun Devil Hidden Dual and followed that up by winning their doubleheader versus Wichita State and Bryant University. This hot start can be credited largely to the environment and mentality head coach Brad Dancer is building within the team.

The roster this year is fairly diverse. There’s a healthy mix of recruits and transfers as well as varying grade levels on the team. Getting a team to compete and execute together can be a difficult task, and it takes a good coach to help achieve the team’s full potential. Dancer has watched his team throughout the season continue to strive for success.

“We’re in a good place in terms of our processes — the things we’re doing, how we’re competing,” Dancer said. “We’re talking a lot about what it’s like to be a part of our program, the mentality you have to have to be a part of our program, the winning mentality that is associated with our program.”

Unique to tennis is the NCAA-mandated break that takes place between the fall and spring seasons, something Dancer heralded as “the most frustrating aspect of our season.” This can make it hard to prepare for the spring season, but so far the Illini have proved strong. The team got put to the test in its match versus No. 2 Ohio State — its first Big Ten away match this season. Despite the loss, the team gained valuable experience on what to expect.

“The next step is going to be how tough we are,” Dancer said. “I think for us, we did a great job in the first weekend of going out and having a winning mentality and being ready for that. We have to continue to do that and go look to win these matches on the road. It’s always a little bit more difficult to play on the road.”

This first road test didn’t offer the convenience of a home or neutral game. However, Dancer wanted to see how his team’s winning mentality reacts to competing away. Traveling far distances is never convenient, but with the chance to learn from some of the best in the country, the Illini did not shy away from the challenge. 

After already playing a fall season together, Dancer also reflected on how the team has become closer.

“I think the team’s coming together,” Dancer said. “There’s definitely a closeness to them, and I think they’re excited.”

Having a unified team is important for the journey of a whole season, especially in a rebuild. This helps foster a good team environment and mentality. Oftentimes, that takes place behind the scenes of the action on court, but it is still just as important for helping a team reach their potential. Dancer understands the significance of good team chemistry, and he sees great things for the Illini in the future.

“We talk a lot about … building the future, and we are not trying to live up to any past or anything else,” Dancer said. “They’re just building their own future, and we’re excited about what these guys can do.”

 

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