Harvard tops tennis

By Derek Barichello

Harvard is known mostly for the lessons it teaches in the classroom, but on Saturday night the 34th-ranked Crimson taught the Ilini a lesson on the tennis court.

Despite the Illini dropping the match 6-1, they feel they are a better team after the loss.

“They exposed our weaknesses,” said head coach Sujay Lama. “We learned that we have to come out with energy every match. We are a team that plays well and feeds off each other’s energy.”

The Illini failed to come out with the same energy in doubles and it cost them. Harvard swept the Illini.

It was only the second time the Illini have lost the doubles point this season and the first time they have been swept.

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“Harvard really set the tone for the match with doubles,” Lama said. “Our No. 1 and No. 2 doubles teams have been playing well, but they ran into some tough opponents.”

Harvard kept the momentum going, winning the first four singles matches to clinch the match.

Junior Brianna Knue was the only Illini player to take her match to a third set.

Lama said the team needs to do a better job of executing.

“We need to close out those tight games,” Lama said. “We are losing way too many close matches.”

Half of the Illini’s lineup was composed of freshmen on Saturday, and Lama feels that the team has not yet learned how to win on the road.

“The youth and inexperience of our team really showed tonight,” Lama said. “They learned what it’s like to go on the road and face a really good team.”

The Illini’s bottom three seeded singles players have only recorded one win in the last three matches against ranked opponents. Lama said for them to be successful and beat top-ranked teams, they need more production from the bottom of the lineup.

“They need to step up,” Lama said. “We cannot always rely on our top two players. The bottom of the lineup needs to be more consistent, because in these bigger matches they need to win. This is their time now.”

The Illini broke the shutout when senior Cynthya Goulet defeated No. 104 Elsa O’Riain to remain a perfect 6-0 this spring.

“She’s been huge for us,” Lama said. “It’s nice to have someone that is playing that good; the rest of the team can take advantage of her. If the team modeled their game around Cynthya’s we’d be in good shape.”

The Illini were impressed with the Crimson’s showing.

“Harvard, in my opinion, will be in the Top 10 a little later this season,” Lama said. “They’re that good.”

Despite the Illini’s third loss in five matches, Lama is happy with his team’s progress at this point in the season.

“Every day our team is improving,” Lama said. “With a young team, wins and losses are not always the best indicators. We need to continue to improve so that we can put some W’s on the board. If we continue to improve, we are going to be a deadly team in April and May.”