Illini miss NCAA tourney

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Online Poster

By Derek Barichello

Illinois head coach Sujay Lama will need nothing more than this season’s missed NCAA tournament bid to motivate the women’s tennis team next spring.

The Illini were disappointed when they heard the news on Wednesday afternoon that they would be left out of the tournament.

“It definitely hurts because I wanted to get there for our seniors and get there so our freshmen can get a taste of it all,” Lama said. “What hurt is that we controlled our fate up until the last match.”

The Illini, who finished in fourth place in the Big Ten with a 12-11 overall record and were ranked No. 55 nationally, let too many opportunities slip away late in the season.

The most crushing blow to their tournament resume came last Friday when they were defeated 4-3 by No. 34 Wisconsin in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini also suffered late season losses to No. 46 Iowa and No. 23 Notre Dame.

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“If we beat any of them we would have gotten in,” Lama said. “That is what makes this season so disappointing; we had our chances.”

What disappointed the Illini the most was how close they came to a tournament bid. Not only were they one of the last teams left out, but they lost six 4-3 matches during the season.

“We played10 4-3 matches this season against some pretty good teams,” Lama said. “We know we’re as good as any of the teams in the tournament. What really gets to you is that there are teams like Illinois State and Illinois-Chicago in the tournament that we have beaten, but they got in there for winning their conference and that is just the way it goes.”

Lama said that because the Illini came so close this season, he expects the team to come back next year with chips on their shoulders.

“This will make us hungry going into the summer,” Lama said. “We set our aspirations high this season for the Sweet 16 and came short. Hopefully we will use this for motivation.”

The Illini return everyone from this year’s lineup, except top-seeded senior Cynthya Goulet.

Goulet will hear tomorrow afternoon whether or not she will compete individually in the NCAA Tournament. Lama said although it is not official, she will likely be chosen. Goulet is the 39th-ranked player in singles and has a 29-6 record this season.

“I feel like she can make a great run,” Lama said. “She has had a tremendous season and has beaten a lot of good players.”

Lama is also crossing his fingers for Goulet and sophomore Emily Wang to be selected for doubles. The duo is ranked No. 58 in the country.