Illini end season at Midwets Blast

Illinois´ Macall Harkins volleys against Wake Forest on Jan. 28. Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois´ Macall Harkins volleys against Wake Forest on Jan. 28. Daily Illini File Photo

By Harini Ganesh

The Illini women finish up their fall season this weekend with the Midwest Blast tournament at the Atkins Tennis Center.

The tournament features a hit-and-dual match format, which enables each of the four teams to play one another only once in singles and doubles matches. Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Louisville are the schools the Illini will be competing against this weekend.

“The name itself, ‘blast,’ and the whole idea is to really celebrate tennis,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “It’s our last time that we get to play a tournament at home you know, in the fall. We just want to have fun.”

The event is about competition as well as having an enjoyable time. Matches start at 9 a.m. Friday morning with the Illini playing doubles against Wisconsin. Later on in the evening there will be opportunities for the community to get more than just a morning of watching tennis. There will be a tennis clinic and live entertainment will be provided for fans by the Xtension Chords, the Illini in Motion dance group and much more.

“It’s a great way to finish up the fall,” Lama said. “To compete hard but also to really have a good time and really introduce our team to the community.”

Although Lama sees the tournament as a way to end the fall season in an upbeat and festive manner, he has the same goals for his team: to see its best tennis yet. The spring season is only about three months away and he wants to see the team step it up and have great success on the court.

“We’ve got to start it up,” he said. “Expectations are pretty high going in so that we come off saying, ‘Look where we got through our hard work.'”

Junior Emily Wang hopes to improve her mental toughness with this tournament. The fall season has not been her best but she wants to continue developing her physical and mental strengths.

“One of the biggest things I want to work on is staying positive with myself,” she said. “I want to let the match be with the other person and not really with myself.”

This past season Wang worked on moving better on the court and getting in better shape. This tournament is a chance for her to exhibit her improvements on court and also get a better mindset going into the spring season.

“I think it’s been really good,” she said of the fall season. “We’ve gone to a lot of matches and I’ve personally worked on fitness and consistency.”

For senior Pavlina Akritas, her goals are to prepare for the spring season as well as improving her match play.

“Last season my problem was that I was playing better in practice than in matches,” she said. “I’m trying to work on staying the same way.”

Even though the team and its coaches have tournament goals to reach, they are excited to play at home for more than just having familiar surroundings.

“We know the grounds and we have that advantage over other people,” Akritas said. “It’s kind of better to be home and be near your apartment and sleep in the bed you usually sleep in.”