Illini hope to come out strong against Buckeyes

Shivani Dave returns the ball during a doubles match against Wisconsin at the Atkins Tennis Center on April 16. Dave and her teammate, Brianna Knue, won the match 8-5. Beck Diefenbach

Shivani Dave returns the ball during a doubles match against Wisconsin at the Atkins Tennis Center on April 16. Dave and her teammate, Brianna Knue, won the match 8-5. Beck Diefenbach

By Harini Ganesh

The Illinois women’s tennis team returns home for the postseason as it hosts the Big Ten Tournament beginning today at the Atkins Tennis Center. No.10 Illinois plays rival Ohio State, ranked No.7, at 10 a.m.

“Our seeding shows we can’t be concerned about who’s going to be a threat to win the tournament,” Illinois head coach Sujay Lama said. “But Ohio State beat us at home and the way we played them was by far the worst. We didn’t play close to our potential.”

The goal, Lama said, is to defeat Ohio State and then take it from there. The Buckeyes beat the Illini 5-2 on April 2. He added the team is excited and is “looking for revenge.”

“In all our other matches we have gotten progressively better,” he said. “We’ve been kind of patchy, but I really feel like we are capable of putting it together.”

Senior Brianna Knue will possibly be playing her last matches of her college tennis career at the tournament. Although she knows any match may be her last, that is not the picture she has in mind.

“I can only think about it so much,” she said. “But right now I want to focus on the task at hand, which is the match against Ohio State.”

The opportunity to play postseason matches at home is in favor for Knue and the team. Sophomore Momei Qu said the crowds other schools have had at away games are nothing compared to what the team has at Atkins.

“With the crowd cheering us, we all have energy,” Qu said. “We’re ready for whatever comes to us.”

Qu plans on playing an aggressive game and play her best against Ohio State.

“We have a really good draw,” she said. “We have a rival in Ohio State and we want to beat them.”

Qu added that Ohio State has more pressure because it has to repeat its defeat of the Illini.

For sophomore Macall Harkins, the goal is to come out ready just like any other match against the Buckeyes.

“We know how they play,” she said. “We have to be ready to challenge them and take it from there.”

Lama’s main concern is that the team stays consistent in doubles. The Illini are 0-10 in Big Ten doubles play.

“It is unheard of for us,” Lama said of the doubles record. “But in eight of those matches, we have been very competitive.”

The doubles team of Harkins and junior Emily Wang has snatched wins in several matches, but they were usually the sole doubles win for Illinois. Lama’s challenge for the team is to get two out of three doubles matches and get the point.

“Psychologically it would be a huge lift,” he said. “I believe we can do it and compete and play well in singles also.”

Knue added that the team should focus on one point, one game, one match at a time and that is the way to approach the rest of the season. She said that the one match against Ohio State matters more than the whole season thus far.

“We’ve struggled getting everyone playing their best this season,” Knue said. “Now everyone needs to focus on zoning in and giving all they’ve got.”