Women lose to Indiana

By Derek Barichello

The women’s tennis team let another close match slip away on Sunday, losing to conference foe No. 43 Indiana 4-3.

Sunday’s match was the third 4-3 match the Illini have dropped this season, causing the Illini’s Big Ten record to fall to 2-1.

“It’s like we are finding ways to lose the close matches,” said head coach Sujay Lama. “We cannot let opportunities slip away like that.”

The Illini had their opportunities, too. With the match tied at three, junior Pavlina Akritas and Indiana’s Cecile Perton battled in the third set to decide the match. Perton was just too much for Akritas though, winning the set 6-2 and clinching the match for the Hoosiers.

Along with Akritas, freshmen Macall Harkins and Alejandra Cuadra lost in their singles matches. Lama said the inexperience in the Illini’s lineup is one of the reasons they have fallen short in matches this season.

“The younger kids do not have that sense of urgency,” Lama said. “We want to get them to understand that sense of urgency and contribute in a positive way.”

The Illini were put in a hole early in the match as well, dropping the doubles point. Sophomore Emily Wang, who plays alongside senior Cynthya Goulet on the Illini’s top doubles team, strained her right knee, which kept her out of Sunday’s match and caused the Illini to alter the doubles lineup.

With Wang out, Akritas took her place and played with Goulet at the No. 2 spot for doubles. The Illini’s regular No. 2 team, Harkins and junior Brianna Knue, moved up to the top-seeded match.

The lineup switch did not work, and the Illini dropped all three matches.

“That was the worst we’ve played in doubles all season long,” Lama said. “With Emily out, we had to work on two doubles teams instead of one. There was a lot of pressure on the top teams, and Cynthya pressed herself a lot. But I still wouldn’t say that was the reason why we lost; we just didn’t execute.”

Lama said Wang is day-to-day, and they will know more today whether she will be able to go against Ohio State on Saturday.

One positive for the Illini was Knue. Despite her team losing in doubles, Knue grinded out a three-set victory at No. 4 singles, keeping the Illini’s hope for a comeback alive.

“I think she’s back,” Lama said. “We need her. She played good tennis this weekend. She put a lot of work in on one-on-one lessons, and she was able to pick up back-to-back wins this weekend.”

The loss was a setback for the Illini, who hoped to start the Big Ten season 3-0.

“It was a heartbreaker,” Lama said. “We wanted this one really bad. Having our first three matches at home to start the Big Ten, we wanted to be undefeated heading into Ohio State.”

The loss was also an emotional one for the Illini. The Hoosiers defeated them in Bloomington, Ind., last season in a game that decided who would win the Big Ten regular season title.

“We wanted to avenge that loss, especially the upperclassmen,” Lama said.

Before Sunday’s match, the Illini defeated Penn State on Saturday at Atkins Tennis Center, 5-2.

Lama said the team competed well and that the Nittany Lions were not able to expose Wang’s injury the way the Hoosiers did.

The Illini grabbed the doubles point and Goulet, Harkins, freshman Momei Qu and Knue picked up the singles victories for the Illini in the victory.

Lama said the spring break trip to Florida, which involved a scrimmage versus Georgia Tech, helped the team.

“We did a good job and played a lot of tennis,” Lama said. “We are fitter, and we are hitting the ball a lot better.”

The Illini hit the court next when they travel to Columbus, Ohio to play Ohio State next Saturday.