URBANA — Brad Dancer would have liked his Illinois men’s tennis team to play this week at the NCAA Championships.
On its home courts. For the chance at an NCAA title. But Illinois fell one win short of advancing to the round of 16 and ending a chance of playing in Monday’s national semifinals after a second-round loss to Vanderbilt on May 11.
“There’s so many different words for it,” the Illinois coach said. “It’s humbling and frustrating, and at the same time, there’s still a lot of pride that we have in trying to make it a great event. I’m trying to help out and lend an ear whenever I can. We’re also just trying to be a good host and help teams out with whatever needs they have.”
Playing on campus was a recruiting spiel Dancer used in the past few years since Illinois learned it would host the NCAA Championships in 2010.
“We thought the recruiting plug for it would be a couple years ago when you could say, ‘Oh, you can play on your home turf,’” Dancer said. “Now seeing how many kids are coming here over the last few days and this weekend, I don’t know if we fully recognized the value of just getting them here.”
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Dancer is alternating time at the championships between practices for Illinois’ Jared Hiltzik, Tim Kopinski and Ross Guignon along with hosting several recruits in town. Hiltzik will play in the singles championships while Kopinski and Guignon will compete in the doubles portion of the championships.
“I’m here every morning and every night to check things out,” Dancer said. “We’re practicing quite a bit off site with our guys. We’ve got a number of recruits that are in town visiting because they obviously want to see the tennis and be a part of it. My days have been filled.”
Illinois women’s tennis coach Michelle Dasso did not get the chance for the Illini to play as a team at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. The Illini narrowly missed a spot in the 64-team field but will have Melissa Kopinski represent the Illini in the singles championships.
Regardless, Dasso is amped about the Illini hosting the championships.
“I can’t tell you how great this atmosphere has been,” she said. “Every day leading up to it for about the last month, I was taking pictures and posting them on our Facebook page. All the coaches I’ve talked to have absolutely loved it so far.”
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The NCAA seeds the top 16 teams in the 64-team field. No unseeded teams were left on the women’s side when play started Sunday.
Two of the four teams left for Monday’s semifinals are top-four seeds. The two lone exceptions are not exactly pushovers.
Stanford, seeded 12th, beat fourth-seeded Georgia 4-1 despite losing the doubles point — the first the time the Cardinal has accomplished that feat since 2011 — to secure a date against two-time defending champion and top-seeded Florida at 5 p.m. Monday. Stanford owns an NCAA-best 16 national championships.
“(Georgia) absolutely outplayed us (in the doubles),” Stanford coach Lele Forood said. “With the caliber of players that are on our team, I don’t think we were too flustered with the idea that we had to win a bunch of singles matches.”
The Cardinal isn’t too concerned either with having the lowest seed among the remaining four teams. Forood declined to talk about the seeds when asked after Friday’s win against USC, but freshman Krista Hardebeck said it is a topic discussed on the team.
“We’ve been talking about it,” Hardebeck said after her 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 win against Georgia’s Silvia Grace decided Sunday’s quarterfinal match. “One of my teammates (said), ‘This is the greatest thing that’s happened to us.’ We have one of the toughest draws, but you have to beat everyone to win the championships. It’s really challenging for us (but) preparing us each for the next match.”
UCLA, the seventh seed, defeated second-seeded North Carolina 4-1 on Sunday. The Bruins, last year’s NCAA runners-up, won the 2008 NCAA title and have finished second six times. The Bruins will tangle with No. 3 Texas A&M on Monday — the Aggies swept No. 6 Miami 4-0 — for a crack at the national title.
“We’ve never played them,” UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster said. “They’ve beaten a lot of great teams, so we’re going to have to find some notes from someone. They’re going to be tough.”
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Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said he’s not surprised to see Stanford — which his Gators beat 4-3 for their first national championship in 2011 on Stanford’s home courts — reach the semifinals again. Florida downed No. 8 California to set up a rematch of a 4-2 match the Gators won against Stanford on Feb. 24.
“When we played them (earlier) that team, I thought, at that point was wicked good,” Thornqvist said. “We played really well to get out of that jam. I had a feeling they were going to go deep in this tournament.”
Thornqvist said he’s not too worried about the quick turnaround time before facing Stanford.
“This is the NCAA semis,” he said. “You don’t get a week off. We’ll be ready.”
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Champaign Central boys’ tennis coach Scott Davis was one of the many spectators on hand Sunday.
It was the first day Davis, whose Maroons won their fourth straight sectional championship Saturday in Danville, had taken in the NCAA Championships.
“I’ve been kind of preoccupied with the high school team,” Davis said with a laugh. “I was hoping to get out here and will hopefully be able to sneak out here a couple other times. This is amazing tennis.”
Davis said he encouraged several members of his Central team to take in the action at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex. The Maroons — who will have Austin Aten compete in singles in suburban Chicago at the state meet while Gabe Mitchell and Michael Yoo will play doubles — are slated to leave for state Wednesday.
“It’d be great to have some of those 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds, both boys and girls, to see the competition and see what they’ve got out here,” Davis said. “It’s inspiring. This is an event that will hopefully come back, but you’ve got to take advantage of it while it’s here.”