Illini look to bounce back

By Derek Barichello

After women’s tennis lost their first Big Ten match to No. 37 Indiana 4-3 on March 27, they bounced back the next weekend with their best performance of the season to defeat Ohio State, 5-2.

The Illini know that kind of rally is needed today if they are going to bounce back from last Sunday’s 4-3 loss to No. 36 Michigan and upset No. 26 Notre Dame at 3:30 p.m. at Atkins Tennis Center.

The Irish have been tough against Big Ten competition this season, going 5-1 while downing Ohio State, Michigan, No. 49 Iowa, No. 50 Purdue and Indiana, with the only loss coming to No. 33 Wisconsin.

On the other hand, the Illini have shown resilience this season, dropping two in a row only once, when they fell to Wake Forest and Tennessee in the third and fourth matches of the season in February.

With only four matches remaining this season after today, the Illini know a win against the Irish would be huge.

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“We’re on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament,” said senior Cynthya Goulet. “We still have a good shot at getting in. We know we belong there and we know what we have to do to get where we want to be.”

Not only would a win be important for the Illini’s postseason hopes, but also for their morale.

“It would give us huge, huge confidence if we beat them,” said freshman Momei Qu. “We have been losing a lot of matches 4-3, but that shows that we are very close. If everyone keeps improving, we will break through and start beating some teams.”

In both conference losses, doubles was the deciding factor, which is not good news for the Illini. The Irish boast the No. 4-ranked duo in the country of Catrina and Christian Thompson who will likely play at No. 1 doubles.

Another factor in the Illini’s last two conference losses was their singles play at the bottom of the lineup. The Illini have only one win at the No. 4, 5, and 6 spots of the lineup in those losses.

“We’ve switched people around down there,” said assistant coach JoAnne Russell. “We’ve even given them more lessons, but it is not up to us anymore. (Head coach) Sujay (Lama) and I have done all we can, it is up to them. They can play; we have good players and some upperclassmen there, they just need to get over their nerves and tell themselves ‘Yes, I can.'”

Although the bottom of the lineup has had its problems, Russell said she is confident someone will step up.

“Everybody is trying their hardest on this team,” Russell said. “We just haven’t got it going down there, yet. If anybody can get a match, it would be huge for the team, because of the way our top-three players have been playing. All it’s going to take is just one ball bouncing their way and they’ll get their confidence back and relax, because we have some good talent at the bottom.”

When the Illini get a win at either the No. 4, 5 or 6 spots, their record is 9-2.

The reason for that is the Illini have been dominant at No. 1, 2 and 3 singles, winning 17 of their 18 matches in the Big Ten.

Goulet leads the way winning 17 of her last 18 at the No. 1 spot. Freshman Macall Harkins, who plays at No. 2, is 5-1 in Big Ten play, along with Qu at No. 3, who has won 10 of her last 12.

In their last meeting with the Irish, the Illini defeated them in South Bend, Ind., 5-2.