NCAA tennis: Illini hope to return happy
URBANA — With a roster of players from Syria, Wales, Australia and the Midwest, the Illinois men’s tennis team is bound to have an eclectic taste in music.
Illinois coach Brad Dancer doesn’t have an exact number, though, of who is a country music fan.
He might have a better idea after this weekend.
Tennis is likely at the forefront of Dancer’s mind, but music might filter in, too, before Illinois (16-10) faces Georgia State (15-10) at 11 a.m. Friday in a first-round NCAA tournament match at the Currey Tennis Center in Nashville, Tenn.
“I’ve never spent much time there, but we’ve got a lot of music fans on our team,” Dancer said with a laugh. “I don’t know if we’re going to be around that at all, but I’m excited to go. Realistically, I don’t know how much time we’ll have to (sightsee) other than practice, practice, practice and get ready to play.”
Some of the Illini contingent left Champaign-Urbana on Tuesday while others left Wednesday once they finished final exams. It’s the first time Illinois, which has qualified for the NCAA tournament every year since 1996, has hit the road for opening-round matches since 2006. Illinois was slated to host that year, but because of an NCAA ruling that Illinois could not host because Chief Illiniwek was still the school mascot, the Illini played in Louisville, Ky.
“We took a fan bus down to Louisville, and they helped us follow through,” Dancer said of Illinois posting two wins to reach the round of 16 during the 2006 tournament. “We’re going to do the same thing here. We’re going to take a fan bus down and make it a great experience for our guys on the road.”
Prior to 2006, the last time Illinois played its opening- round matches away from the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex and Atkins Tennis Center was 1998.
A win Friday would set up a second-round match at 2 p.m. Saturday against either host Vanderbilt (16-10) or East Tennessee State (13-6).
Illinois has never faced Georgia State or East Tennessee State in the NCAA tournament or in a regular season match. The Illini, however, are more familiar with Vanderbilt. The two schools have met four times, with Illinois winning all four, most notably in the 2003 national championship match Illinois won 4-3 in Athens, Ga. The last time the Illini and Commodores tangled came in a 4-0 Illinois win during a 2004 national quarterfinal match.
“We’ve played a couple big moments in NCAA history with Vanderbilt, so we obviously hope this is another big moment for Illinois tennis in terms of going down there and getting through the first round to have a shot at being in the second round,” Dancer said. “I don’t think overconfidence is going to be an issue for us. I’m not concerned about that at all with this year’s team. We’ve shown we can lose to anybody, so I think they’ll be ready to go.”
Ready to come home and play on their home courts is motivation enough for Dancer and his squad. Two wins in Nashville guarantee Illinois will play at least one match back in Urbana, which hosts the round of 16 matches and on for the NCAA national championships.
“Our guys understand that no one from Illinois tennis has ever gotten to play in the round of 16 in front of their home crowd,” Dancer said. “If they do that, I think it will be the biggest crowd that has ever watched an Illinois tennis match. That would just be something sweet for these guys to experience that.”
Tough (opening) act to follow
History suggests Illinois will beat Georgia State on Friday morning in Nashville, Tenn. Illinois, making its 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance, has not lost a first-round match this century. Here’s a look at the streak that started before the Y2K scare hit (kids, ask your parents).
Year Opponent Result Tournament finish
1999 Northwestern W 4-0 Lost in national quarterfinal
2000 Maryland-Baltimore County W 4-0 Lost in national quarterfinal
2001 Murray State W 4-0 Lost in round of 32
2002 Indiana State W 4-0 Lost in national quarterfinal
2003 Butler W 4-0 Won national championship
2004 Western Michigan W 4-0 Lost in national semifinal
2005 Quinnipiac W 4-0 Lost in round of 16
Year Opponent Result Tournament finish
2006 Western Illinois W 4-0 Lost in round of 16
2007 Western Michigan W 4-0 Lost in national championship
2008 Xavier W 4-0 Lost in round of 16
2009 Western Michigan W 4-0 Lost in round of 16
2010 Xavier W 4-0 Lost in round of 32
2011 Drake W 4-0 Lost in round of 16
2012 Western Michigan W 4-0 Lost in round of 16