Women celebrate senior’s final match

By Derek Barichello

It is down to the final weekend of the regular season for women’s tennis, and they know it will take a 2-0 weekend to propel them to a top-three finish in the Big Ten.

That will be the goal of the 50th-ranked Illini when they host No. 49 Iowa on Saturday and unranked Minnesota on Sunday.

The Illini feel a top-three finish gives them the best chance to win a title in the conference tournament, because No. 4 Northwestern would be in the other bracket, setting up a possible championship scenario against the Wildcats.

For the Illini to finish in the top three, they have to win both matches and get some help. The Illini currently sit at fourth place in a tie with Michigan at 5-3 on the season, just a game behind Iowa and Indiana.

In order to finish higher than Indiana, the Illini would need the Hoosiers to lose both of their matches over the weekend. The Hoosiers hold the tiebreaker over the Illini, defeating them earlier in the season. Indiana hosts the Wolverines on Friday and last-place Michigan State on Sunday.

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If the Hoosiers win over the weekend, the Illini could still get a top-three finish from a Michigan loss. Due to a loss earlier in the season, the Wolverines hold the tiebreaker over the Illini. After Friday’s match against Indiana, Michigan hosts Penn State.

With all that said, the Illini know they cannot worry about the other matches and need to focus on themselves.

“Iowa is ranked ahead of us, so we are the underdogs,” said assistant coach JoAnne Russell. “We have to treat Minnesota the same way as well. We need to beat both teams, and they know that.”

For the Illini to be successful over the weekend, Russell said they do not need to be great, but solid.

“Everyone just has to do their job,” Russell said. “We are a young team, so we make a lot of mistakes. We have lost a lot of matches 4-3, so we are right there. If we just cut out the unforced errors and mistakes, we’ll win matches.”

Russell said last weekend’s upset of Wisconsin in Madison will give them confidence.

“We are a very good team,” Russell said. “They (Wisconsin) are a really good team, but everybody just stepped up and played well.”

One of the reasons the Illini ended up on the winning side of the 4-3 score to Wisconsin was they were able to win the doubles point and get production out of the bottom of their lineup. Sophomore Emily Wang, who plays at No. 5 singles, picked up a win and has been playing well of late.

“Em’ stepped up against Wisconsin,” Russell said. “She has been playing really well. We need that.”

Sunday’s match will be an emotional one for the Illini; it will likely be the last home match of the season for seniors Cynthya Goulet and Leila Cehajic.

Goulet, who is 26-6, could share seventh place on the Illini single-season victories list if she wins both matches this weekend. One victory would put her in a three-way tie for ninth place. Goulet is ranked No. 34 in the country, the highest ranking of her career.

Cehajic, on the other hand, has sat out most of her collegiate career due to injury and has contributed to the team off the court.

“She is like a third coach out on the court,” said head coach Sujay Lama. “Leila has shown great leadership off the court.”