Illinois men’s tennis completes hectic regular season travel schedule with two weekend wins


Illinois’ Brian Page hits the ball during the match against No. 8 Texas at Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. The Illini won 4-3.

6,372. This isn’t the number of minutes the Illinois men’s tennis team has played this season, or the number of return shots the players hit at practice. This is the amount of miles the Illini have traveled for road matches since their season officially started on Jan. 25: 6,372.

“It’s been a long year, travel-wise. So the goal now should be winning enough matches down the stretch here to get a host position for NCAAs,” head coach Brad Dancer said. 

This weekend’s 2-0 trip to Iowa City, Iowa, and Lincoln, Neb., brought the No. 11 Illini to 18-7 (7-2 Big Ten). The road trip marked the long-awaited last road trip of the regular season for Illinois, which finished with a 5-4 road mark. Although the Illini got the two wins in dominant fashion, 7-0 against Iowa and 6-1 against Nebraska, Dancer still sees a lot of room to improve.

“We should perform better all across the board, we can be better,” Dancer said.

Dancer finally has flexibility with his lineup and doubles pairings, which is something the Illini haven’t had the luxury of for the majority of the Big Ten season. No. 8 Jared Hiltzik missed about six weeks with a wrist injury, and sophomore Brian Page has been out for about six weeks with an arm injury. 

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“I think we should have good enough players that we can put guys in spots that they need to be and win some matches,” Dancer said. 

Dancer utilized the newfound flexibility in full force this weekend, using different doubles pairings for each match and a different singles lineup between the two as well. Page was inserted into the lineup against Nebraska for the first time since playing a singles match against Detroit Mercy on March 9, when he played with a cast on his left arm. Hiltzik also returned to the top singles position for the first time since his return to the lineup.  

“I don’t think it’s something I really pay attention to too much. Farris (Gosea) and I are both playing at competitive levels, so we’re obviously very interchangeable,” Hiltzik said.

The two road wins over the weekend could prove crucial for Illinois moving forward, as they are battling to improve their seeding for both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Championships. 

In terms of conference positioning, the Illini got some help from the teams they were closely trailing heading into the weekend. Illinois was sitting in fourth but has catapulted itself into second after the weekend, now only trailing the nation’s No. 1 team, Ohio State. Penn State, who was in second, fell twice on the road, bringing them to 6-3 in the conference. Purdue was the other team ahead of Illinois; the Boilermakers went 1-1 on the weekend, dropping to 7-2 in conference, but the Illini would currently hold the tiebreaker over them as Illinois won the head-to-head match earlier this season. 

Although the Illini will get to return home for their final two matches of the regular season next weekend, they aren’t done traveling quite yet. The Big Ten Tournament will be played at Michigan State this year, and the Illini could potentially play on the road at some point in the NCAA tournament, depending on how far they advance and where they’re seeded.

“Playing on the road is one of the more difficult parts of college tennis no matter where you go. You have to adjust to different types of courts, different types of atmospheres, different backdrops and really everything,” Hiltzik said.

Brett can be reached at [email protected] and @blerner10.