Home court advantage key for Illini men’s tennis

By Christopher Kennedy

After a thrilling road win in Waco on Wednesday, the Illinois men’s tennis team is back in Champaign for its first home meets of the school year at Atkins Tennis Center. The Illini (1-0)will face two reigning conference champions in the Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix of the Horizon League and the Ball State Cardinals of the Mid-American Conference. Both teams appeared in the NCAA tournament last year.

“I think we’ve got a bunch of guys who are anxious to get home and play in front of their home crowd.” Head coach Brad Dancer said. “Hopefully a lot of students out there, just making it the incredible home court that it is.”

Friday’s match marks the team’s first time in front of their home crowd all year. The Illini have had tremendous home-court advantage in recent years. Last year they went a perfect 13-0 at home, their first undefeated home record since 2004.

While the Illini’s opponents aren’t as highly ranked as the No. 6 Baylor team Illinois took down on Wednesday, Dancers says that he doesn’t think the team will dwell too much on the first win of the season and have a lot to improve.

“There’s nothing really to take other than we’re 1-0,” Dancer said. “The only two spots we lost in singles, we didn’t keep our composure. And Farris (Gosea) and Aron (Hiltzik), that’s one of the things they do best usually.” 

Both Ball State and UW-Green Bay are 1-0 to start the season as well. Ball State defeated Detroit last weekend to start its spring campaign.  The Cardinals last trip to Champaign was a 4-0 shutout loss in the NCAA tournament last spring.

The Cardinals return all but one of the six singles players who faced Illinois in that match. They are led by senior Ray Leonard, who’s earned All-MAC First Team honors three seasons in the row. Ball State won its first MAC title since 2011 last year, but have had tons of success under head coach Bill Richards, winning 22 MAC championships in 33 years of membership in the conference. 

Green Bay is in the middle of unprecedented program success. The team is coming off of its second Horizon League championship in three years and was a unanimous pick to repeat.Top singles player No. 77 Michael Tenzer is making waves for the Phoenix as the first player in program history to be nationally ranked.

Tenzer is the reigning 2-time Horizon League men’s tennis player of the year. In the fall Tenzer also became the first player in Green Bay history to advance to qualifying at the ITA All-American Championships. At that meet, he defeated Ohio State’s Mikael Torpegaard, who won the ITA Midwest Regional Championship after taking down both Aron and Jared Hiltzik.

Dancer said the team is excited for their first chance to play in front of their fans this year.

“I think it’s going to be a blast for them to play at Atkins in that environment,” Dancer said.

Chris can be reached at [email protected].