Women’s tennis hosts ISU, UIC Sunday

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By Derek Barichello

Women’s tennis is looking to finish its four-match home stand on a good note when they close it out against Illinois State and Illinois-Chicago at 11 a.m. Sunday at Atkins Tennis Center.

Last weekend, the 33rd-ranked Illini dropped the first two games of the home stand to No. 18 Tennessee and No. 30 Wake Forest. In both matches, the Illini felt they had opportunities to win.

“We need to get back on track,” said head coach Sujay Lama. “It was definitely a frustrating, disappointing weekend, but at the same time, I noticed terrific improvement in our play between Friday and Sunday.”

The Illini have had success against both Illinois State and Illinois-Chicago in the past. Last season, the Illini swept the Redbirds 7-0 and defeated the Flames 6-1.

Illinois State has a record of 0-3, losing to Kansas, Miami of Ohio and DePaul. They are scheduled to play St. Louis today.

The Flames on the other hand are 1-1. They got off to a good start defeating Wright State 7-0 in their season opener, but most recently lost to Marquette 4-3 on Wednesday, a team the Illini swept 7-0 on Jan. 22. UIC is scheduled to play Western Michigan on Saturday before coming to Atkins Tennis Center.

With two matches in one day, fitness is a concern for the Illini.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Lama said. “It’s going to be four matches for some people, and that will test their fitness. Some of the non-starters are going to get a chance to play. It’s a good opportunity to get us to improve in a number of areas.”

The matches give the Illini a chance to shuffle their lineup. Lama said he is going to move junior Brianna Knue, who has played at the No. 4 spot in singles all season, up to No. 3 and move freshman Momei Qu down to No. 4.

“I think a move from No. 3 to No. 4 will allow (Qu) to develop her confidence,” Lama said. “Brianna hasn’t necessarily been playing her best tennis, but she is a fighter and a leader, and I think she can step up to the challenge of moving higher in the lineup.”

The Illini also believe they might have found their No. 3 doubles team. Qu and freshman Alejandra Cuadra, who played well despite losing their match last weekend to Tennessee, are expected to get another chance at that spot on Sunday.

“Momei and Alejandra played together for the first time on Sunday,” Lama said. “They were up, 3-0, against a good team before losing. I think their abilities complement each other well.”

One of the things the Illini do not want to do is look too far ahead to the Feb. 12 match up against No. 34 Harvard in Cambridge, Mass.

“I’m pretty sure we are not going to have a let down,” Lama said. “I think the team is just so focused on improving and so mad that we let two matches slip away last weekend. We see this weekend as a great chance to get better.”