National Men’s Team Indoor Championship provides valuable experience for Illini

By Jim Shay

There was no denying the sizable challenge facing the host Illini men’s tennis team at this past weekend’s National Men’s Team Indoor Championship in Chicago, as the tournament pitted the NCAA’s top sixteen teams against each other in a battle for national supremacy.

With impressive victories over two highly-ranked opponents in Texas A&M; and Florida last week, the Illini’s quest to continue their impressive play was met with mixed results. Friday’s match-up against No. 11 Oklahoma State resulted in a hard-fought 4-2 victory, thanks in part to a great all-around performance in doubles competition, as well as straight-set singles victories for juniors Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe.

A Saturday match-up with No. 3 UCLA, however, provided a less-favorable outcome for the Illini, as the Bruins stormed back after losing the doubles point to take the match 4-2. Defending national champion Benjamin Kohlloeffel led the charge for UCLA in singles competition, beating Anderson in No. 1 singles 7-6 (7-3), 6-1. Junior Ruben Gonzales provided the only decisive victory for the Illini, as he soundly defeated Mathieu Dehaine in straight sets 6-1, 6-4.

Saturday’s loss stripped the team of their chance to compete for the tournament championship, and the loss of momentum seemed to carry over into Sunday’s match-up against No. 7 Baylor. The Illini had little success in losing their first doubles point of the weekend, and, coupled with threestraight losses in singles competition, dropped the match 4-0.

Though the Illini emerged from the weekend with a somewhat disappointing 1-2 record, head coach Brad Dancer was quick to look for the positives in the team’s performance.

“There are a lot of great teams here,” Dancer said. “To beat a team of the quality of Oklahoma State, to have a chance to play Baylor, and to lose against UCLA, who is one of the favorites to win the national title this year, I take no shame in that.”

Final results aside, facing the high-stakes atmosphere of the tournament provided the Illini with an experience that will prove especially valuable as the season progresses.

“We just have to enjoy the competition,” Dancer said. “Our guys have the opportunity to play against teams of a high caliber in front of a good crowd. It’s a no-lose situation.”