The Illinois men’s tennis roster has completed 15 matches so far this season, with just nine conference matches left before postseason play begins.
Currently sitting at a less than desirable 6-9 record, the Illini have had a hard time finding their groove this season.
Looking back to the start of the regular season, Illinois has come a long way. After the first three weeks of competition, Illinois was on a five-game losing streak and sitting at 1-6 after a loss against Duke.
With no momentum, Illinois won against Northern Kentucky later that day, snapping their losing streak. The biggest game of the weekend would still await the team on Sunday night, however, as the team was set to host a match against No. 22 North Carolina.
After a start to the season that saw Illinois drop matches to both unranked and ranked opponents, many chalked up the match against UNC as a loss.
Thanks to a great effort all-around on the day and a clinch in singles by freshman Gabrielius Guzauskas, the Illini upset the Tar Heels, 4-2. This match was much bigger than just another win in the win column as this match has changed the entire trajectory of the Illini’s season.
“After we beat UNC, I was talking to (coach Dancer), and he was saying it’s just the beginning,” Guzauskas said after the team’s victory against UNC in February. “We have to let this match motivate us more moving forward and help us do better. It was a rough start, but hopefully this match against UNC will help us start doing better. “
Since the UNC match, Illinois has elevated its play to levels not seen yet this season. The team has gone 3-3, only dropping matches against teams in the top five, losing to previously No. 5 Baylor, then No. 1 TCU and current No. 1 Florida.
Head coach Brad Dancer has been open about his frustrations regarding his team’s level of focus in the past, but since the match against UNC, he has been seeing this young team grow into a more complete roster.
“I think that from a growth standpoint, we are starting to come together as a team,” Dancer said. “Everyone is starting to talk with one another. In terms of responsibilities of each guy and the roles of each guy, I think there’s a little bit more coordination and cooperation amongst the team right now, and that’s a really good sign as we go to the future. “
With conference play beginning on Friday and May tournaments quickly approaching, Dancer is also optimistic about the team’s chances to do well within conference play and tournaments after such a terrific turnaround.
“Individually for our guys, the next step is getting each of those guys to play at their very best,” Dancer said. “If we can do that, we have a good enough team to challenge anybody.”