Iowa serves quarterfinal loss

Iowa serves quarterfinal loss

By Harini Ganesh

Illinois’ run in the Big Ten tournament ended as the women’s tennis team lost to No.2 Iowa on Friday. With the loss, the Illini’s season is officially over.

“We were unbelievably competitive,” Illinois head coach Sujay Lama said. “If we had taken the opportunity to convert the doubles point, it would have been different.”

The team had played the Hawkeyes less than a week ago in Iowa City and lost, 5-2. But Lama said that the Illini played much better and showed improvements in their games compared to last Sunday.

“There were some blowouts out there,” he said of the last time the two teams faced each other. “But this time we were unbelievably competitive, but it was a tough Iowa team and they didn’t give in an inch.”

Tenth-ranked Illinois came off a strong win over No.7 Ohio State the day earlier. The team had won its first doubles point in Big Ten play against the Buckeyes and hoped to do the same against the higher-ranked Hawkeyes. The No.3 doubles team of sophomores Alejandra Meza Cuadra and Momei Qu kept Iowa’s Krissy Dowlin and Milica Veselinovic on their toes, with both teams tied 6-6. However, Cuadra and Qu could not convert the four break points in the following two games and lost, 8-6.

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“We didn’t close on them,” Cuadra said, “that was the difference.”

Senior Brianna Knue and sophomore Shivani Dave’ were unable to win their doubles match at No.2, giving Iowa the doubles point. Knue played her final singles match of her college tennis career against Veselinovic, losing 6-2, 6-3.

“It was typical Brianna,” Lama said. “For four years, it was all effort and never-say-die attitude. I’m really proud of her.”

Knue’s loss gave Iowa the four points it needed to advance to the semi-final against No.3 Michigan.

“It’s unfortunate it had to end,” she said of her career. “But I don’t have anything to regret. I’m proud of myself and it was a hard-fought match and we gave it all we had.”

Dave’ was tied at 1-1 in the third set of her singles match when it was abandoned. She had taken the first set against Merel Beelen, 6-3, but was blown out in the second without winning a single game, 0-6.

“A lot of it was just not being able to stay consistent and playing well throughout,” she said. “I started breaking down a little and it’s something to definitely work on.”

Dave’ completed her first full season as an Illini with the quarterfinal loss. She said it has been a huge learning experience and now knows what it takes to play college tennis.

“You have to put a lot of work in it,” she said. “It is such a big opportunity I have here, and I know never to take it for granted.”

Throughout the season Lama has focused on the positives the team has displayed. He made sure that the players competed hard and put their best effort forward on the court. One of his players, sophomore Macall Harkins, received the Big Ten Player of the Week award twice this season and was an unanimous addition to the All-Big Ten team at the Big Ten awards banquet Thursday. Besides, Lama added, the team is still young and very resilient.

“I’m very proud of the way we finished off,” he said. “The last two matches were a positive. It was a tough year overall, but it’s only going to make us that much better.”