1-1 weekend leaves tennis disappointed

By Derek Barichello

Women’s tennis has become accustomed to the 4-3 loss this season; on Sunday, the 53rd-ranked Illini dropped their fourth this spring and second in the Big Ten, coming up short to No. 38 Michigan.

In each of the one-match losses, the same thing has happened: the Illini drop the doubles point, grab three singles matches at the top of the lineup and lose all three at the bottom.

So on Sunday, when the Illini fell behind early after losing two of three doubles matches, it felt like deja vu. The Illini have lost three of the four matches after dropping the doubles point.

Head coach Sujay Lama said the match was decided at No. 3 doubles. Freshmen Alejandra Cuadra and Momei Qu lost 8-6 but had opportunities to win.

The duo fell behind 6-3 before tallying three straight points to tie it at six. Then Elizabeth Exon and Debra Steifler of Michigan answered back with two consecutive points to win it.

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“We knew it’d be hard to win if we lost in doubles,” Lama said. “We needed the doubles point, because we knew they had a lot of depth.”

Trailing 1-0, the Illini fought back. Senior Cynthya Goulet, ranked No. 41 in the country, defeated No. 53 Michelle DaCosta in two sets, marking the 17th match Goulet has won in her last 18.

“She’s phenomenal,” Lama said. “She’s leading by example and having fun. She’s not feeling any pressure out there.”

The freshmen came through for the Illini at the top of the lineup; Macall Harkins and Qu won each of their singles matches.

“For freshmen to perform at that level as well as they have is outstanding,” Lama said. “They have come up big for us this season.”

Needing only one more singles match to steal the victory, the Illini could not get a win out of the bottom of their lineup. Juniors Brianna Knue and Pavlina Akritas and sophomore Emily Wang failed to win a single set, and the Wolverines came away with the victory.

“It all comes down to desire down there,” Lama said. “We needed someone to step up. I believe we have the talent and we are capable, but we just have to want it more.”

Just 24 hours earlier, after dropping four initial sets in singles, the Illini came back and won four of them, along with the doubles point, to pick up a 5-2 victory over No. 62 Michigan State.

“We played extremely well against Michigan State,” Lama said. “We were able to get ahead early and take care of business.”

Although the Illini finished .500 on the weekend, Sunday’s loss was a setback for the team. With the loss, the Illini fell to 4-2 in the conference and dimmed hopes of a conference title.

“There are not many matches left in the season,” Lama said. “This loss hurts our chances of making the NCAA Tournament and our seeding in the Big Ten Tournament.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Illini have shown resilience this season. After losing to Indiana earlier in the season, the Illini bounced back with two of their best performances and have dropped two matches in a row only once this season.

“We have opportunities still, but the window is getting smaller,” Lama said. “I told our team ‘If we beat Notre Dame, we’ll forget about this loss.'”

The Illini will return to action on Wednesday at Atkins Tennis Center when they host No. 31 Notre Dame at 3:30.