Illinois falls to Notre Dame in close match

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Online Poster

By Derek Barichello

With the match tied at three and the outcome on the line, head coach Sujay Lama had who he wanted playing – junior Brianna Knue.

In her collegiate career, Knue has been synonymous with clutch play, recording match clinchers against Wake Forest and Wisconsin last season.

But on Wednesday night the results were different. Knue dropped the match in three sets to Lauren Connelly of Notre Dame, and the Illini were dealt their fifth 4-3 loss of the season, pushing their overall record to 10-8 this spring.

After falling in the first set 6-4, Knue came back with a 7-5 victory in the second set to stay alive.

“Brianna gave herself a chance to win,” Lama said. “She played aggressive. I thought her opponent just played really well and took it away from Brianna.”

In the third set, Knue fell behind 3-0 and could not recover, losing the set 6-2. Knue said she committed unforced errors because she put too much pressure on herself.

“I was thinking about it for sure,” Knue said. “That I have come through for my team in this situation so many times before. I haven’t been as successful this year, and I thought about that during the match.”

Although Knue suffered a tough loss, she said the last thing she wants to do is hang her head.

“I can’t think ‘I have to win for my team; my team needs me,’ anymore,” Knue said. “I just have to play my match and not look at the scoreboard. I fought hard; it was a tough match, and I would have loved to win, but we have practice tomorrow, and I’m going to work on getting better.”

Lama said he is still confident in Knue’s abilities in the clutch.

“With Bri, every time it comes down to the end, you always think she is going to win,” Lama said. “I think the difference this year was that we’ve come to expect it from her. Last year, it was more of a surprise. She knows that expectations are higher, and I think she just tried too hard.”

The Illini took the momentum early in the match by winning the doubles point.

Senior Cynthya Goulet and sophomore Emily Wang teamed up to defeat No. 4 Catrina and Christian Thompson, 8-6, lead; the way in doubles. Freshman Macall Harkins and Knue were the other Illini doubles team to pick up a victory.

“That was a huge win for (Goulet and Wang),” Lama said. “Emily played a lot better, that will help her confidence. She even came out and played better in singles, but got a little fatigued towards the end.”

The momentum was short-lived, as the bottom of the Illini singles lineup came up empty again.

Along with Knue’s loss, Wang lost at No. 5, and junior Pavlina Akritas dropped her match in two sets at No. 6.

“Up until the end, I thought that was our match,” Lama said. “Emily and Macall came up short, and Pavlina hit a wall.”

Despite not coming away with the win, Lama said the team can gain confidence from the match.

“There’s still a lot of tennis left, and although this loss hurts, we did a lot of good things,” Lama said. “It will only give us confidence when we go to Wisconsin and Northwestern this weekend.”