Women serves up OSU

By Derek Barichello

Women’s tennis wants to set the tone early in Saturday’s match because they know they do not want to end up in a dogfight when they travel to Columbus to take on No. 68 Ohio State.

Although the Buckeyes are only 6-11 on the season, the Illini have dropped three 4-3 matches this season, and head coach Sujay Lama said they do not want to let the Buckeyes use their home court advantage.

“They are tough at their place,” Lama said. “We’ve had some big battles there, and we have a very healthy rivalry with them. It’s going to be a tough match, and we want to go out there, assert ourselves and give them no hope.”

For the Illini, that all starts with doubles. Last weekend, Lama said the Illini came out and played the worst doubles of the season. He is expecting a better showing on Saturday.

“We need to go out and play with a lot of energy,” Lama said. “Last weekend, we did not play good team doubles. It felt like we were individuals playing in a doubles match.”

The good news for the Illini is sophomore Emily Wang will return and join senior Cynthya Goulet at the No. 1 doubles spot.

“With Emily out, I felt like that was a distraction,” Lama said. “She will be back, and our doubles lineup will be back to the way it was.”

One of the biggest problems all season for the Illini has been execution. They have not been able to finish their opponents when they get ahead in matches. Lama said even if the Illini get ahead early on, they have to stay hungry.

“We want to have that killer instinct,” Lama said. “I like the way we are competing, and we are giving ourselves chances, but when we get ahead, we have not done a good enough job of closing the door on our opponents.”

In order to do so, the Illini are going to have to get production out of the bottom of their lineup. Junior Brianna Knue has stepped up lately, winning her last three matches, but the Illini are looking for the others to do as well.

“We need to play better on the big points,” said freshman Alejandra Cuadra. “We need to take advantage of all opportunities.”

The Illini let one of those opportunities slip away last Sunday, dropping a 4-3 heartbreaker to Indiana and falling to 2-1 in the conference.

Despite letting that opportunity slip away, the Illini are focused on what they can control.

“It was disappointing. We wanted to start 3-0 in the Big Ten,” Lama said. “We sulked about it on Monday, but on Tuesday when you come to practice, there are only two things you can do, be negative and whine about the loss, or come back and play hard and prepare for the next match.”

After all, the Illini know from last season that anything can happen. After dropping their first match of the conference season to Purdue, the Illini ran off nine straight and had a chance to win the conference in the last match of the season, before falling short.

“We still have six more chances,” Lama said. “That is the way we are looking at it. Why not win the remaining matches? It is possible. We just need to stay optimistic and work hard.”