Women lose first match at Big Ten Tournament

By Derek Barichello

Women’s tennis did not help their chances for an NCAA Tournament berth on Friday when they lost in their first match of the Big Ten Tournament to fifth-seeded Wisconsin, 4-2.

The loss moves Illinois’ record to 12-11 on the season and puts them on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth.

“It could go either way,” said head coach Sujay Lama. “If we get in, we will be one of the last teams to get in. If we don’t get in, we’ll be one of the last teams left out. We don’t control our fate anymore, and now our fate lies in the hands of the tournament committee.”

The Illini’s situation is indicative of how the season has gone, they have played in nine 4-3 matches this season, dropping five of them.

“I feel for our kids right now,” Lama said. “We have fought hard this season, and our effort has been flawless. Most of our matches have been 4-3, and that is the way the season has gone. If we come out on top in a few more of those matches, we are sitting here as a top-20 team instead of being on the bubble.”

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On Friday, the Illini were victims to another one of those close matches. When it was called, the Illini were on track for their tenth 4-3 match of spring, as freshman Macall Harkins held a 4-2 lead in her last set.

After dropping the doubles point, Lama felt the Illini had a chance to win the match when they jumped ahead in four of the six singles matches, but senior Cynthya Goulet and freshman Momei Qu ended up being the only two players to pick up victories after grabbing the early lead.

Lama said the deciding match was between junior Brianna Knue and Wisconsin’s Kaylan Caiati. In that match, Knue won the first set 6-0 before dropping the second set 6-3 and jumping ahead early in the third set before falling 6-4.

“I felt we still had a chance,” Lama said. “We were in position to win; Brianna was up in the third set. She was up 3-1, and in the fourth game she was up 40-15.”

Along with Knue’s loss, the bottom of the Illini’s singles lineup struggled. Freshman Alejandra Cuadra, who played at No. 6 in the lineup, and sophomore Emily Wang, who played at No. 5, lost both matches.

“This is how the season has gone all year long,” Lama said. “We could not get production out of the bottom of our singles lineup and have had limited production out of No. 3 doubles. When you fail to get production out of those spots, it puts a lot of pressure on the top to be flawless.”

Now, the Illini will have to wait until Wednesday afternoon to see if they are selected to play in the NCAA Tournament.