URBANA, December 19, 2018
Highlighting the schedule, Illinois will serve as the host site for the 2019 ITA National Team Indoor Championship on Feb. 15-18, 2019 at Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago, Ill. Hosting for the fifth time in the tournament’s history, the Orange and Blue receive an automatic bid and are exempt from competing in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. The Illini have won the team championship twice in program history (2003, 2004).
The challenging slate is also highlighted by nine home matches, in addition to a dual match against UCLA in Chicago to prepare for the ITA National Team Indoor Championship. The Illini will face sixteen opponents that closed out the 2018 season ranked in the final Oracle/ITA Team Rankings, including eleven that made the 2018 NCAA tournament, with Ohio State and UCLA finishing as finalist and semifinalist, respectively.
“Needless to say, with our schedule, it’s always on,” said Dancer. “We are either playing conference opponents or other great teams around the country.”
The Illini start off the new year traveling to Atlanta for the Georgia Tech MLK Invitational from Jan. 19-21. Illinois will begin dual match play on Friday, Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. CT with a home opener against ACC opponent, Duke. The following week, the Orange and Blue travel to South Bend, Ind. on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. CT to clash with Notre Dame before returning home to Atkins, welcoming SEC opponent, Kentucky, and ACC foe, North Carolina, on Feb. 8-9, respectively. Both matches start at 6 p.m. CT each day.
Following the ITA Team Indoors, the Illini trek to the Lonestar State for the first weekend in March. The team will face a pair of Big 12 teams – Baylor on Friday, Mar. 1 at 6 p.m. CT in Waco, Texas and TCU on Sunday, Mar. 3 at 12 p.m. in Fort Worth.
The Illini will also squeeze in two non-conference matches in the Sunshine State during conference play. Illinois travels to Gainesville to face a tough SEC opponent in the Florida Gators on Wednesday, Mar. 20 at 1 p.m. CT. Associate Head Coach, Marcos Asse, is a former gator that contributed to the 2000 SEC Championship team. For the first time in program history, the Orange and Blue will face UCF in a contest on Friday, March 22 in Orlando, Fla.
Illinois returns to Atkins, opening conference play against in-state rival, Northwestern, on Friday, Mar. 8 at 6 p.m. CT, then hosting Indiana on Sunday, Mar. 10 at 12 p.m. (noon) CT. Following the conclusion of non-conference action, the Illini travel to West Lafayette, Ind. to face Purdue on Sunday, Mar. 24 at 11 a.m. CT. The Orange and Blue will close out the month by hosting back-to-back Big Ten opponents, Nebraska and Iowa, on Mar. 30-31. Both matches start at 12 p.m. (noon) CT each day.
The Illini travel to the “Mitten” to continue Big Ten play. On Saturday, Apr. 6 at 11 a.m. CT, the team will travel to East Lansing, Mich., facing Dancer’s alma mater, Michigan State. Then, Illinois travels to Ann Arbor to face the always tough Michigan Wolverines on Apr. 7 at 11 a.m. CT.
Concluding their home slate, the Illini welcome Penn State and Ohio State to Atkins on Friday, April 12 at 6 p.m. CT and Sunday, April 14 at 12 p.m. (noon) CT, respectively. Always tough competition for the Illini, the Buckeyes have dominated the conference for the past three years. Illinois ends the regular-season on the road against Minnesota and Wisconsin on April 20 and 21, respectively.
“Our guys love that challenge,” noted Dancer. “They know that if they do not show up for every match then we will get beat. “It enhances the student-athlete experience if you know that every time you step on the court representing the Illini, you better bring your best.”
Postseason play begins with the Big Ten Tournament on April 24-28 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan will play host with the tournament held at Varsity Tennis Center. The Orange and Blue have finished in the top-three at the Big Ten Championship for the past five years, including a conference title in 2015.
The NCAA Championship will have a new regional format this season. NCAA regional action will begin May 3 on various campuses. The new NCAA Super Regional format will take place May 10-12, where the round of 16 will be hosted by the top-eight remaining seeds. The final eight teams will advance to Orlando, Fla. for the 2019 NCAA Team Championship on May 16-19 at the USTA National Campus. The city will also serve as the host site for the NCAA Individual Championships, running from May 20-25.
Fresh off the program’s seventh NCAA Team Championship Quarterfinals appearance, the Orange and Blue return eight players, including Big-Team First Team honoree, Alex Brown, and ITA Midwest Regional champion and finalist, Aleks Kovacevic and Zeke Clark.
“I think this year’s squad in particular is trying to put their stamp on Illini tennis history,” said Dancer.