Fighting Illini Athletics added several members to the family recently, as the early National Letter of Intent signing period started on Nov. 13. Check out the future stars for Illini baseball, basketball, golf, gymnastics, softball and tennis.
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Head coach Brad Dancer enters his 10th season on the staff and ninth as head coach of the Illinois men's tennis team. Dancer became Illinois' 19th head men's tennis coach on June 28, 2005, after serving his first year on the staff as an associate head coach under Illini legend Craig Tiley.
In 2012-13, Dancer's Illini finished 17-11 overall and 8-3 in the Big Ten Conference. Illinois provided two major thrills at home in the spring, knocking off both No. 5 Duke and No. 7 Kentucky in consecutive weeks. Also, the Orange and Blue made their 18th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, staying undefeated at 15-0 in first round action. In addition, under Dancer's watch, Hiltzik captured three Big Ten Athelete of the Week awards, First-Team All-Big Ten honors and Big Ten Freshman of the Year; meanwhile, Kopinski earned Big Ten Athlete of the week once and earned Second-Team All-Big Ten laurels.
The 2011-12 squad was successful under Dancer, capturing its first Big Ten Tournament title in seven years with a dramatic comeback win over six-time defending champion Ohio State. Dancer guided the team to the NCAA Sweet 16 and coached Dennis Nevolo to a round of 16 berth in the NCAA Singles Championships to garner All-America status for the second straight season. The team finished 19-8 overall.
In 2010-11, Dancer led the Illini to the Sweet 16 for the ninth time in 10 years. Additionally, Nevolo garnered All-America honors for the first time in his career after reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA Singles Championships.
The 2009-10 season saw the Illini make their 15th consecutive NCAA appearance, in addition to securing their 13th straight 20-win season with a 20-11 overall mark.
The Orange and Blue went 9-1 in the Big Ten to claim a second-place finish led by All-Big Ten honorees Marek Czerwinski and Dennis Nevolo.
During the season, Dancer also collected his 100th victory at Illinois with a thrilling 4-3 win at Wisconsin on March 21.
In 2008-09, the Illini fell in the Sweet 16 to defending champion Georgia and finished at No. 12 in the final Campbell's/ITA rankings after posting an overall record of 23-9. Three Illini earned All-Big Ten honors, including Marc Spicijaric, Roy Kalmanovich and Dennis Nevolo. Nevolo also became the fifth Illini to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year accolades and was the first since All-American Kevin Anderson received the honor in 2005.
The 2007-08 season was highlighted by the play of seniors Ryan Rowe and Ruben Gonzales, who were both All-Big Ten selections after helping lead the squad to an 8-2 finish in conference. Additionally, Rowe was named the Midwest Region Farnsworth/ITA Senior Player of the Year and Gonzales was the top male senior Scholar-Athlete at Illinois.
The 2006-07 season proved to be quite memorable for the Illini, as the many highlights included a runner-up finish in the NCAA tournament, Dancer's 100th career victory and All-America honors for Kevin Anderson and Rowe in both singles and doubles. Additionally, the pair also earned first-team All-Big Ten accolades and Anderson was named Big Ten Player of the Year and was the male recipient of Illinois' Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year award.
Anderson and Rowe, the 2006 NCAA doubles champions and 2007 NCAA doubles runner-up, finished the year ranked No. 5 and became the first doubles team in almost 40 years of the championships to make it to the finals with the same partner in back-to-back seasons.
In Dancer's first season at the helm in 2006, the Fighting Illini took down two of the nation's top teams to open the season, defeating No. 1 Virginia, followed by dismantling No. 8 Duke on the road in consecutive duals. The feats propelled Illinois to No. 2 in the nation, a spot Illinois held for a large part of the season.
Also during that year, Illinois garnered its first singles No. 1-ranked preseason player in Ryler DeHeart. DeHeart led the Big Ten as the highest-ranked singles player during the year, ranking as high as No. 1 during the regular season and earned two All-America honors and a singles title at ITA National Indoors.
Dancer has had several former Illini move on to successful professional careers, most notably Anderson and DeHeart, who have each attained career-high world rankings in 2010. Anderson shot up to No. 58 in October, while DeHeart checked in at No. 174 in May.
As an associate head coach in 2004-05, Dancer helped lead the Orange and Blue to a 25-4 record and a trip to the Sweet 16, before taking over for Tiley, who left the program after a 12-year stint to become the director of Tennis Australia and who led the Illini to a national championship in 2003.
Before coming to Illinois, Dancer compiled a 38-35 overall record in three seasons as the head coach at Fresno State University. He led his teams to two NCAA tournament appearances, and in 2003, his squad advanced to the second round, marking the deepest postseason run during his tenure. In 1999, Dancer served in his first head coaching capacity for the women's tennis team at the University of Arizona.
Dancer's collegiate coaching career started at Michigan State, his alma mater, where he served as the assistant men's tennis coach from 1993-98. Overall, he started coaching at the club level and academies in Michigan, Colorado and later Bradenton, Fla. Dancer has traveled to more than 20 different countries, working with elite junior development programs and numerous touring professionals. Martina Navratilova, Joannette Kruger and Mariaan de Swardt are just some of the renowned athletes he has had the pleasure to work alongside.
In 1996, he began his ongoing role as an assistant to Billie Jean King for the U.S. Fed Cup Team. Dancer cites the experience with King as having a profound impact on him, as she led by her incredible example and helped him mold his coaching ideology.
From 1998 to 2004, Dancer served as head coach of the Delaware Smash of World Team Tennis. In his time, he had the privilege to coach team members such as Patrick McEnroe and Serena Williams. In 2003, he guided the Smash to the World Team Tennis Championship en route to being named Coach of the Year.
Dancer earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1993 from Michigan State and also competed on the men's tennis team, earning All-Big Ten honors his senior year. As a four-year Academic All-Big Ten selection, Dancer served as team captain for MSU and qualified for the NCAA Individual Championship his senior year.
Dancer and his family reside in Champaign