The Daily Illini

Freshman Duong leads Illini with title at Thunderbird Invite

Illinois+women%E2%80%99s+player+Emilee+Duong+hits+a+forehand+at+Atkins+Tennis+Center.+Duong+won+the+ASU+Invite+last+weekend.+The+team+is+proud+of+how+it+ended+its+last+tournament+of+the+season.
Illinois women’s player Emilee Duong hits a forehand at Atkins Tennis Center. Duong won the ASU Invite last weekend. The team is proud of how it ended its last tournament of the season.

Illinois women’s player Emilee Duong hits a forehand at Atkins Tennis Center. Duong won the ASU Invite last weekend. The team is proud of how it ended its last tournament of the season.

Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Illinois women’s player Emilee Duong hits a forehand at Atkins Tennis Center. Duong won the ASU Invite last weekend. The team is proud of how it ended its last tournament of the season.

By Satvik Sethia, Contributing writer

The Illinois women’s tennis team finished off their landmark season strongly in Arizona, where they took part in the Arizona State University Thunderbird Invite. Emilee Duong, the Illini freshman who has impressed all season, placed first in the competition.

The fall slate saw welcome changes and positive results, and in Tempe, it was no different.

Duong defeated opponents from Ohio State, Fresno State and Notre Dame to reach the finals.

Junior Jaclyn Switkes had to defeat two of her teammates, Daniela Novak and Mia Rabinowitz, to make it an all-Illini final, ensuring that the top three places were occupied by Illini. Duong inched over Switkes 7-6 (2), 7-5 in a tight match to clinch the title.

“It is a shame that one of our players had to lose in the final today as both Emilee and Jaclyn were playing great tennis,” said head coach Evan Clark in a press release. “It also says a lot to have two Illini in the final of a very good tournament. It was a great five-match run from Emilee. To her credit, she continued to find ways to win close sets and matches all weekend, and that was the difference.”

Duong also reached the semifinals of the ITA Midwest Regionals in Ann Arbor earlier this season.

“She has put together quite an impressive resume this fall and we are very proud of her,” Clark said.  

With lots of changes in the team and the staff, this season could have taken a turn for either the better or the worse. The team was completely transformed as four seniors graduated and youth entered in their place. Clark took over as head coach and brought over Melissa Kopinski as his assistant.

“(It’s a) different program, in the sense that Evan is head coach, and the way everything is run, new team, new feel — (we’re) very excited,” Kopinski said.

The excitement and confidence in the players and the staff, however, make the results look like they were part of the plan. Kopinski, who is a former Illini All-American, mentioned that working with Clark is not a new experience for her.

“It’s great. Evan was my assistant coach for about three months,” Kopinski said. “Evan is a very cool, laid-back guy, so I think we complement each other very well. He’s easy to work with, and I like what he has planned for the girls coming up.”

The team is looking forward to the new season, where all matches will be in the preferred collegiate team-based format. The Illini’s performance in this last tournament is a boon for the team heading into the spring.

“I am also very proud of our entire group,” Clark said. “To finish first, second and third in singles and win 23 matches over the entire weekend says a lot about this group. We talked about finishing the fall the right way and that’s exactly what they did. I give a ton of credit to our team for all of their hard work this fall and I know everyone cannot wait to get started in the spring.”

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