Women’s tennis: Women bounce back with win over Minnesota

Cynthia Goulet, right, returns a serve as her partner Emily Wang stands ready to play at the Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday. Illinois defeated Minnesota 7-0. Online Poster

Cynthia Goulet, right, returns a serve as her partner Emily Wang stands ready to play at the Atkins Tennis Center on Sunday. Illinois defeated Minnesota 7-0. Online Poster

By Derek Barichello

Seniors Cynthya Goulet and Leila Cehajic finished their collegiate careers at Atkins Tennis Center on a high note as the Illini cruised to a 7-0 victory over Minnesota on Senior Day. But just a day earlier the Illini suffered a pivotal loss to No. 49 Iowa, 6-1.

With the 1-1 weekend, the Illini finished the Big Ten regular season in a tie for fourth place with a record of 6-4, 12-9 overall. The Illini’s goal going into the weekend was to finish in the top three, but Saturday’s loss eliminated that possibility.

“We had a chance to be a two or three seed going into the Big Ten Tournament,” said head coach Sujay Lama. “There was a lot riding on that Iowa match, and we were disappointed with the loss.”

The loss could also be pivotal to the Illini’s hope of an NCAA Tournament berth.

“Right now we’re on the bubble,” Lama said. “Iowa and (we) are right there. There is no telling how big that loss was to Iowa, but the only thing you can say is that a win would have helped.”

Iowa dropped Sunday’s match to Purdue, pushing their conference record to 7-3 and 13-8 overall.

What happened to the Illini on Saturday was a mystery to Lama.

“We had such a good week in practice,” Lama said. “What made it so disappointing is that we just came out flat. Iowa played well too, you have to give them credit, but we came out flat.”

Goulet gave the Illini their only tally with a singles win against Meg Racette at the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Goulet fought back after losing the first set to win the match in three sets: 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

Junior Brianna Knue and freshmen Momei Qu and Alejandra Cuadra were able to take their matches to three sets after dropping the first but were unable to come through in the final set.

“We put some fight toward the middle of the match in singles,” Lama said. “It was just too late. I just felt like we were playing not to lose, instead of to win. We were the underdogs in the match. We should have been the ones going after it.”

On Sunday, Lama made that point clear to the team, “to go after it,” and that’s just what they did.

“We talked about sending Cynthya and Leila off on a good note,” Lama said. “They have been a very special group and have been great captains all year round. Cynthya put together one of the best seasons in Illinois history. I think we sent them off nicely, with a bang, and they will remember this match for a long time.”

The only blemish on the day was an upset loss at No. 1 doubles. Goulet and sophomore Emily Wang were defeated in the tiebreaker 9-8 (2), after the Illini had already claimed the doubles point.

With her singles win, Goulet shares seventh place in the all-time Illini single-season victories list with 28.

Up 6-0 in the match, Knue continued to fight in her match against Minnesota’s Danielle Mousseau at No. 4 singles. After dropping the first set 6-4, Knue battled back to win the next two sets in the tiebreaker 7-6 (5) and 7-6 (7) to clinch the shutout for the Illini.

The Illini hope Sunday’s win can give them momentum heading into the Big Ten Tournament on Friday.

“There are going to be opportunities in the tournament,” Lama said. “Right now we are not concerned about who we play, but we have to pick up a couple of victories.”