Dancer hits milestone as Illini cruise past Marquette

Dancer hits milestone as Illini cruise past Marquette

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Dancer didn't plan a late-night phone call to Australia. There will be no taunting his former boss Craig Tiley.

Dancer passed his friend in the Illinois record book Saturday afternoon. The 4-0 win against Marquette in the opening round of the NCAA men's tennis tournament was the 275th of Dancer's Illini career.

There were T-shirts printed to prove it. The school passed them out afterward at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. Next to a photo of Dancer's face, it read: 275 career wins. Most in Illinois history.

To be clear, it was not Dancer's idea. And you won't see him wearing the shirt any time soon.

"I don't plan on it right now," Dancer said. "I see enough of my ugly face in the mirror every day.

"I'm sure it will be a nice memento at some point, but it's embarrassing right now."

A few weeks ago, Dancer heard the record win was approaching.

"But I forgot all about it," he said. "It's goofy because Craig's played such a big part in my life."

At that point in Saturday's interview, Dancer started to fight back tears.

"He's a huge mentor for me and a role model for me," Dancer said. "He's a legend in terms of coaching here at Illinois. I owe so much of it to him."

Yes, Dancer has more wins than Tiley. But the former coach won an NCAA title at Illinois and is in the school's Hall of Fame.

When he catches Tiley in terms of titles, Dancer said, maybe then he can do some talking.

Dancer is in his 13th year as Illini head coach and 14th overall. The record, he said, is more a product of longevity.

"All it means is you're getting old and you've been here a long time," Dancer said. "I have to thank Ron Guenther for hiring me in the first place and Mike Thomas, who supported our program tremendously and now Josh and Hope (Whitman) and everything they're doing.

"I feel honored and privileged every single day to be a part of this university and this institution and to coach in such a beautiful tennis facility. I feel lucky."

The Illini players are happy to have Dancer as their coach. And to be able to share his record win.

Not that they knew about it beforehand.

"Coach is always super humble about stuff like that," sophomore Zeke Clark said. "He never really talks about his accomplishments. It's funny to see the shirts. Everything he's done, it's incredible. Brad is such an amazing coach. We all know that. I love the shirts. I want to make sure I get one and keep it because 275 wins is pretty incredible. It's nice just to take a moment and step back and look at everything he's done for the program."

"To be a part of that is really special," senior Aron Hiltzik said. "I didn't know it was going to be this match. I knew he was close to that mark, so it's pretty cool."

On a threatening but never rainy afternoon, the Illini made short work of the Golden Eagles.

After winning the doubles point, the Illini didn't waste much time to clinch the match with singles wins by Clark, Hiltzik and Caleb Chakravathi.

"They started nervous in doubles," Dancer said. "It's their first NCAA tournament in a few years and we got the jump on them in doubles.

"In singles, they were just crunching the ball. Our guys did a good job withstanding that pace. Our guys concentrated well enough to get through on enough courts. I thought our guys were pretty sharp."

Illinois seniors Hiltzik and Aleks Vukic led the way.

"They are special guys," Dancer said. "Aron's been fantastic. (Vukic) has been unbelievable. They're both great."

Next up: a second-round match at 2 p.m. today against Vanderbilt. The winner earns a trip to the Sweet 16 next week at Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Commodores beat Drake 4-2 Saturday in the opening match.

"Vandy is a great team and they play in a tough conference," Dancer said. "They're used to playing other good teams. There's nothing we're going to show them that they haven't seen before. It's going to be a match that comes down to toughness and grittiness. Hopefully, the crowd's a big part of it as well."

Dancer's record win won't intimidate Vanderbilt.

"Not at all," he said.

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