Women take early lead, defeat Ohio State

By Derek Barichello

Women’s tennis followed head coach Sujay Lama’s game plan by grabbing the early lead and taking it to the 68th-ranked Buckeyes en route to a 5-2 victory on Saturday.

The win was the first on the road this season and moved the Illini to 3-1 on the Big Ten season. Not only that, but Lama said it was the best tennis the team has played all season.

It all started with doubles; the Illini won two of three matches to gain a 1-0 edge and take the momentum from the Buckeyes.

Then, the Illini kept the heat on in singles play, notching four two-set victories at the top of the lineup, dropping only the No. 5 and No. 6 match.

“It was the best match of the year,” Lama said. “We stayed loose and relaxed, even on the road, and we were able to stay focused. Everyone on the team gave a great effort.”

For sophomore Emily Wang and freshman Macall Harkins it took a great deal of effort. They battled with injuries during their matches.

Wang, who sat out last weekend, came back on Saturday after limited practice and joined senior Cynthya Goulet at No. 1 doubles in a win.

“She had a gutsy performance today,” Lama said. “They fell behind 4-1 in their match and she continued to fight.”

Harkins came into Saturday’s match questionable with a swollen knee all week, yet was cleared to play and made the most of it. Along with junior Brianna Knue, she cruised to an 8-4 win at No. 2 doubles and picked up a two-set victory at the No. 2 spot in singles.

Lama said the way the team played on Saturday says a lot about their character and owes it to the team’s leadership.

Earlier in the week, the team’s juniors and seniors called a meeting after the Illini’s heartbreaking 4-3 loss to No. 36 Indiana. The meeting was to keep the younger players in the Illini’s lineup focused after the loss. The Illini’s upperclassmen told them about last season and how the Illini dropped their first conference match of the season to Purdue, but managed to win eight straight and come one game shy of a Big Ten title.

“Our juniors and seniors really stepped up,” Lama said. “They called the meeting on their own. They wanted to tell the young ones on the team not to get disheartened. What every good team has is leadership and leadership is what overcomes adversity. We had that and everybody came prepared and did their best at Ohio State.”