Illini travel to Fla. after long break from competition

By Harini Ganesh

The women’s tennis team heads down to Miami, Fla., this weekend to compete in the Florida International University Invite. The tournament is the first for the team since the Midwest Blast in November.

Head coach Sujay Lama anticipates a good weekend for the Illini. Although he knows they are going to be a little rusty, he expects them to have good match practice for the upcoming spring season, which starts next weekend.

“When the kids started practice this week, they came back in good shape,” Lama said. “They trained fairly hard over the holidays, and we challenged them this week.”

The aim of the tournament is to get in some individual matches in order to prepare for the spring season. The Illini will be playing the University of South Florida, University of Miami and Florida International this weekend.

The matches will be in the hit-and-dual format, a simulation of the dual match format used in the regular season.

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The team will play three doubles and six singles matches each day and the points will be counted individually, unlike the regular season.

“We just want to improve with each match,” Lama said. “This is a great opportunity for the players to get really good matches.”

Senior captain Brianna Knue is looking forward to the tournament.

Her personal goal is to get as much match practice as possible and see what she needs to work on before next weekend.

“It’s awesome to start the season off with great matches and play three great teams,” she said. “And it’s always nice to be together as a team. It’s going to be about the team now, and we have to work together.”

The Illini has been in Miami for the past week, training and preparing for the tournament. They are facing tough competition from the other three teams.

“It’s hard to predict which one of us will do great,” Lama said. “I just know our kids are going to work very hard and focus on competing and doing our best. That’s our goal.”

Knue is not worried about the competition.

“We’ve played South Florida before,” Knue said. “They’re a good team. Regardless of that, they’re going to be good matches.”

After this tournament, the spring season begins. With the focus shifting from the individual to the team, Lama hopes the team will develop both physically and mentally and take confidence from the Florida tournament.

“We want to show we’re tenacious,” he said. “We don’t want to give free points, sets, or matches.”

Lama wants the team ready for the Big Ten season and for them to have an opportunity to win the Big Ten title and go as far in the NCAA tournament as possible.

“The key for us is to focus on improving because we’re a fairly young team,” he said. “The bottom line is we’re using this weekend to improve and get the feel of dual matches which we will start next weekend.”