Women end Regional run in round of 16 last Saturday

By Harini Ganesh

The Illini women’s tennis head coach Sujay Lama knew that the Midwest Regional Championships would be a tough tournament. The Illini went into the event after two weeks of no competition.

Although the team made it only as far as the round of 16 in singles and the quarterfinals in doubles, Lama is nevertheless pleased with the positives of the tournament.

“We have a great system, a great plan,” he said. “And we need each and everyone on the same page to be successful.”

Four players left for East Lansing, Mich., to compete in the qualifying draw last Thursday. Three players, sophomores Momei Qu and Macall Harkins and senior Brianna Knue, had been entered in the main draw and competed on Saturday.

Qu lost in the round of 16 to Caitlyn Burke of Wisconsin, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4. Knue lost in the second round to Catrina Thompson of Notre Dame 6-2, 6-0. Thompson was the second seed in the singles tournament.

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“Momei and Brianna are clearly two kids who worked hardest since school started in the fall,” Lama said. “Brianna played high-level tennis and got better in each match. She easily could’ve gotten farther if anyone else played her in the second round.”

Going into the tournament, Knue had looked forward to competing in singles. The team had played matches in practice.

“I feel like I’m ready,” Knue said of competing at regionals. “It’s exciting to get back and play another tournament, and we’re actually winding down our fall season.”

Knue with Harkins entered the doubles main draw and made it all the way to the quarterfinals where they fell to fourth-seeded Brook Buck and Keley Teft of Notre Dame in a tiebreaker, 9-8(2). Harkins and Knue had reached the finals of the tournament the year before.

Harkins lost in the first round of singles to ninth-seeded Nischella Reddy of Minnesota, 6-7, 6-1, 6-2. She took the first set in a tiebreak, but lost the next two sets and the match to Reddy.

Harkins had been working on improving her physical and mental strength before the regional tournament.

“I’m excited just to see how well we compare from this year to last year at the tournament,” she said of competing at regionals. “I’m excited to see how well we compare to the other teams.”

While the three players in the main draw fared pretty well, the other Illini were not able to qualify. Lama feels that they competed well but did not match up to the competition. He feels that they need to catch up to the level of play of Qu, Harkins and Knue.

“Overall, we’re still quite a ways to be in physical shape to be successful,” Lama said. “Their fitness and movement is not where we desire. When it’s a war out there, they succumb to it a little bit.”

Although the team needs to work on its mental toughness, Lama takes pride that his team cares about its teammates and are ready to sacrifice for the good of the team. With a young team, he knows they need to improve their professionalism, but adds that they are willing to learn.

“It is a challenge for us to instill that in them,” he said, “and hold them accountable. They need to be physically strong and mentally strong.”

Lama’s goal is to finish the fall season with a blast at the Midwest Blast, which will take place at Atkins Tennis Center from Nov. 4-6.