Tennis has 1-1 weekend

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By Derek Barichello

It may not show in the standings, but women’s tennis continues to make strides with each match.

On Saturday, the 45th-ranked Illini fell to No. 8 Washington 6-1, but head coach Sujay Lama was pleased with what he saw from his team.

“I like how we stayed in the matches,” Lama said. “We had the opportunity to get it done; we were ahead in five of the six singles matches. We just didn’t take advantage.”

Lama said he was most pleased with his doubles lineup, which garnered the Illini’s lone point of the day.

Senior Cynthya Goulet and sophomore Emily Wang lost their match at the No. 1 spot, but the Illini’s No. 2 and No. 3 teams were there to pick them up. Freshman Macall Harkins and junior Brianna Knue picked up a win at No. 2 and freshmen Momei Qu and Anastasia Sokolova won at No. 3.

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Lama said with the win Qu and Sokolova have assured themselves a spot in the doubles lineup at No. 3.

One of the differences this weekend for the Illini was Knue’s play. She has struggled this season, losing six of her last nine singles matches coming into the weekend. Over the weekend, Knue finished 1-1, but showed promise in a tough three-set loss at the No. 4 spot to Washington.

“Brianna is the heart and soul of this team,” Lama said. “She is coming off two solid matches and I think she has made a jump mentally.”

In Saturday’s match, Goulet dropped her first singles match of the season. She lost to Dea Sumantri of Washington, who is ranked No. 5 in the country, 6-3, 6-4.

“She was disappointed,” Lama said. “She could have gotten another major win under her belt. She continues to believe in herself, and I still believe she is one of the best players in the country. I think she was even better than the girl she just played and she was rated No. 5.”

Before playing Washington on Saturday, the Illini swept Portland 7-0 Friday. Lama said the loss to No. 44 Western Michigan on Feb. 20 was fresh on their minds.

“We don’t like losing,” Lama said. “It is no fun. We took the Western Michigan loss to heart. It taught them that if they are not prepared, they are going to get their butts beat. We did a better job with that over the weekend.”

Lama said he noticed over the weekend how much the freshmen on the team have grown. After playing six ranked opponents, the intimidation has worn off.

“The freshmen are not freshmen anymore,” Lama said. “They have played with Top 10 and Top 20 competition. They’ve been in every single match, except for the Harvard match. With the Big Ten season starting, the team senses now is the time to start peaking.”

Although the Illini had a resurgent weekend effort wise, Lama said there are still a lot of things the team will be working on in practice this week.

“We need to continue being sharper in doubles,” Lama said. “We need to work on the confidence of our 1, 2, 3 and 4 players. With the final four players in the lineup, they all have to be ready to step up. They will all be working very hard for a spot. Whoever’s number is called has to be ready. With four people competing all week in practice, by Saturday, they should be ready to take someone’s head off.”

Despite only a 6-5 team record, Lama said he is happy with the progress his young team has made over the course of the season. He said they are ready to start turning their losses into wins. The Illini feel there is no better place to start winning than with the Big Ten opener against Purdue on Saturday.

“We are competing well,” Lama said. “We’re getting close to breaking through. This team is aware of how hard the past teams have worked to get us to where we are. We have a young team. If we continue to fight, we’re going to get it done and we’re going to get on a roll.”