Illini advance to second round in Big Ten tourney

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

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

By Harini Ganesh

The Illinois women’s tennis team avenged its previous loss to Ohio State by taking the Buckeyes out 4-2 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.

Charged with momentum from winning the doubles point, their first against a Big Ten team this season, the Illini battled their way through the singles to claim the match.

“It was awesome,” Illinois head coach Sujay Lama said. “We battled and we were so loose, so relaxed. We’re alive for another day.”

Throughout the doubles matches, Lama and associate coach JoAnne Russell advised the players to keep the “positive intensity” and to “be positive.” The No.1 doubles team of junior Emily Wang and sophomore Macall Harkins defeated Ohio State’s Caitlin O’Keefe and Angela Dipastina, 9-7.

“It was good for me and Macall because we started out the season good,” Wang said. “But we lost a few matches and we both have to play well and we’ve been having trouble doing that.”

There was no trouble today as both Wang and Harkins competed hard and stayed confident throughout the match. Lama said that both players “hung in there” despite not playing their best. He applauded all his doubles teams. At the No.3 position, sophomores Alejandra Meza Cuadra and Momei Qu beat Ciara Finucane and Angela Dipastina, 8-3.

“We’ve actually been getting better in doubles,” he said. “No.3 doubles played the best doubles of their lives.”

Senior Brianna Knue lost her doubles match with partner freshman Shivani Dave’, 8-5, to Sonia Ruzimovsky and Julie Blackmore. Knue did not finish her singles match either, which was abandoned due to being the only match left when Illinois had already won the match. In spite of that, she was excited for her team’s win.

“Winning the doubles point was huge,” she said. “It was good to just get that momentum going to into singles. Singles was a battle but I had to fight hard.” Knue lost the first set in singles 5-7 to Blackmore. The match was abandoned when both were tied at six games each in the second set. Knue said if Illinois had lost the match, it would have been her last match in college tennis.

“I thought I had it,” she said of her singles match. “It was kind of a mental letdown but I had to keep battling because every point counts no matter what.”

Illinois next meets up with No.2- seed Iowa, whom they played and lost to, 5-2, last Sunday in Iowa City. This time, the Illini have the home-court advantage and know what to look forward to.

“We played them pretty close,” Lama said of Iowa. “They’re a good team. We have to come out the way we did today and stay fired up.”

Wang added that Illinois has nothing to lose against Iowa and the team is pumped up.

“We recently played them and know what to do,” she said. “It’s just another match and we should just go for it.”