Weekend tournament gives team Big Ten win

Weekend tournament gives team Big Ten win

By Harini Ganesh

Illinois went into this weekend’s matches against Michigan State and No.36 Michigan with a four-match losing streak and no Big Ten wins. Returning to Champaign, the women’s tennis team won its first Big Ten match, defeating Michigan State, 4-3, but losing to Michigan, 6-1.

“The effort was incredible,” Illinois head coach Sujay Lama said. “We took a nice step forward and it really helped our confidence.”

The Illini are now 6-11 overall this season. Lama said that the team has dealt with its losses well, especially those that were unexpected against Penn State and Ohio State. His aim for this weekend had been to focus on the positives rather than dwelling on losses.

The positives showed against Michigan State as Illinois failed to capture the doubles point but won four singles to take the match. Senior Brianna Knue defeated Jessica Baron, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1. She has been working on improving her consistency and it paid off as she clinched the match for the Illini.

“I was glad I could do that for the team,” she said. “It was positive for me and my confidence.”

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Lama added that all the players exerted themselves on the court and fought hard. He added that despite sophomore Momei Qu’s finger injury, she “looked close to 100 percent.”

Qu said that her injury kept bothering her and knows it is going to keep hurting.

“I’m not going to sit it out,” she said. “I’m playing the way I did before I had it, and it was a productive weekend.”

She won her match against Pascale Schnitzer, 7-6(8), 6-4. She did not do the same against Michigan but felt that she was returning to her old game.

“I’ve been struggling a lot mentally with the fact I haven’t been playing like I used to,” she said. “This gave me more confidence and I went for more shots and played aggressively.”

Sophomore Macall Harkins extended her singles winning streak to seven matches on Sunday against Michigan’s Kara Delicata. She also won her doubles match with junior Emily Wang against Michigan State. Although she was the only winner for Illinois against Michigan, she had to struggle to stay in the match and win it.

“I wasn’t believing in my game,” Harkins said of her first set loss to Delicata. “I was being negative. But I played better in the second and third set.”

Assistant coach JoAnne Russell gave Harkins a pep talk after the first set and Harkins began picking up her game. She defeated Delicata, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Overall, the team had a positive experience on its Michigan road trip. Illinois has four Big Ten matches remaining in the regular season before it starts the Big Ten Tournament on Apr. 27-30. Lama said the focus now is to keep building confidence and improving.

“I saw glimpses of our best tennis,” he said. “We have to build on what we gained this weekend and get better so we can peak at the championship.”