Illini women’s tennis hopes to top regionals

By Harini Ganesh

The women’s tennis team heads to East Lansing, Mich., this weekend to compete at the ITA Midwest Regional Championships. Four players are competing in the qualifying singles, and Momei Qu, Macall Harkins and Brianna Knue have made it into the singles main draw.

“I feel good about these three kids playing the main draw,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “I have some great expectations.”

The Illini are competing in their first tournament since the Kentucky Invitational and the All-American Championships two weeks ago. The team has practiced and improved its techniques and physical strength preparing for this tournament.

“The preparation has been fantastic,” Lama added. “They’ve had a great presence on the court, and the experience that they had at All-Americans was crucial, I think.”

The regional is a larger tournament compared to the events the Illini competed in earlier in the season. All the schools in the Midwest will be there, and the competition will be better.

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Qu has been looking forward to competing since the All-American Championships ended, and has been working on taking the ball a little earlier on returns and weightlifting and conditioning to gain physical strength.

“It makes me a little bit more anxious since we’ve been having a lot of practices and not as much competition,” Qu said. “We want to see how we do and it really pumps things up when there’s competition involved.”

Qu played in the main draw of the regional tournament last year and made it to the second round.

“I definitely look forward to doing better,” she said about competing this year. “This year it’s, ‘I’m going to get as far in the draw.'”

One player Lama thinks will do well in this tournament is Harkins. With her big lefty serve and fast-paced serve-and-volley game, he said she will be hard to beat.

Harkins has been working on her return of serve, her forehand and footwork in the weeks since the All-American. In addition to improving her technique, her goals are to remain positive and prepare mentally for each match.

“I’m excited because we’ve been out two weeks,” she said of competing this weekend. “We’ve been preparing for it so much, and I want to see how I’ve improved.”

Harkins was a runner-up last year in the regional doubles tournament with Knue.

Knue, Harkins and Qu, concentrate more on each single match rather than the win at the end. Lama said that they have a professional mindset since they apply themselves to get what they want.

Knue, the team’s captain, mirrors these sentiments. Her goal, she said, is to get as far in the tournament as possible and agrees that focusing on the first couple rounds is important.

“I think that’s really key,” she said. “A lot of people are going to be nervous and the first couple rounds are when you’re probably going to face people that are a little scrappier, and you’re going to compete a little bit more.”

Last year, Knue and Harkins were unseeded in doubles and made it all the way to the finals. They were runners-up.

“I just like fighting it out every match,” Knue said, “and focusing on performance goals and not (worrying) as much about winning.”

The regional tournament is also important because if a player gets into the finals, she’s automatically entered into the National Indoor Championship, the second “grand slam” of college tennis. This event also decides the school rankings for the regular season.

“I want them to make a statement,” Lama said of the team. “I want to make a statement that Illinois tennis is strong, that we are a group of competitors; we’re professionals.”