Coach: ‘One match at a time’

By Harini Ganesh

The Illini women’s tennis team hosts its first games of the spring season this weekend at the Atkins Tennis Center.

The team will play Marquette on Friday at 6 p.m. and Western Michigan at noon on Saturday. It is the first home game since the Midwest Blast in the fall.

“I’m excited,” senior Brianna Knue said. “It’s fun just playing all together and to play at home. It’s so much easier than playing on the road. We have all our fans and we’re familiar with the courts.”

Knue has played against Western Michigan every year since she started playing for the University. She knows the team is tough, but aims to focus first on playing Marquette. Once done with that, she will concentrate more on Western Michigan.

“We’re going to have to go in with a competitive mindset,” she said. “Just go out there and battle.”

Head coach Sujay Lama wants his team to compete to the best of its ability. He noticed the doubles teams did not do as well as he had hoped at the Miami invite the weekend before. He wants the women to stay in the present, take it one match at a time.

“Each match is an opportunity for us to improve,” he said. “They have to stay in the moment and I want us to be a tenacious team and fight like crazy out there.”

He stressed that every single point and game should be taken seriously. The team needs to be aggressive and take the home court advantage, he said, and play to win.

Sophomore Macall Harkins has moved up a spot and is playing No. 1 singles this weekend. She wants to see how she will match up against her opponents and get it into the atmosphere of the dual-match season.

“I’m pumped and ready to play,” she said. “We’ve been practicing for so long and we have a chance to do really well. We all need to stay positive.”

Harkins has been working on her doubles performance as well with her returns and volleys. Lama has had the whole team improving its doubles games and serves. The intangibles are the most important, he said, and those must be controlled.

“The main thing is to cut down the mental mistakes as much as possible,” he said. “If the ball’s right there in front of you and you make a mistake, it’s within your control and you have to capitalize on that. You have to compete against your player and not yourself.”

Knue knows that Western Michigan is not an idle opponent and said they are fighters on court. The key for the Illini is to do their best and take advantage if they are ahead.

“It’s important to close it out,” she said. “We have to focus on executing and closing out leads when we have them.”