Tennis on its toes for Big Ten schedule

By Bret Greenberg

The well-rested Illini are fired up to start Big Ten conference play Saturday as they head to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on the Boilermakers.

The Illini have had two weeks off to relax and heal in hopes of bouncing back from their loss against Washington on Feb. 17.

“It was good to get a break and be able to recharge,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “We’ve been working on doubles, and I feel the girls have some fire in them.”

However, the last two weeks haven’t just been about rest and relaxation for the Illini. The players feel they should take every opportunity they are given to improve, both individually and as a team.

“It’s been really nice to have a break,” freshman Annie McCarthy said. “But we have been doing a lot of extra stuff to get ready, especially cardio.”

Dasso said the team stayed competitive in practice by playing mixed doubles matches with the men’s tennis team. She said her players were able to learn a lot from the men.

Illinois’ coaches and players agreed that the team needed a balance of rest and small competitions to get them ready for the Boilermakers. The players feel they need to stay on their toes so they can keep moving up in the International Tennis Association (ITA) rankings. The Illini, currently sitting at No. 65, are aiming to finish in the top 42 and capture an automatic bid to nationals.

Mentally, however, Illinois has no problem preparing for Purdue.

“There is obviously a little more pressure and excitement,” McCarthy said. “But we like to call them ‘Purdon’t.'”

The Illini (4-4) will be matched-up against the Boilermakers (2-6), who ride a three match losing streak into Saturday’s 10 a.m. dual.

“Our team goal is to start off with a win against Purdue,” Dasso said. “If we go out there (Saturday) ready to compete in every match, then I think we have a good shot.”

Dasso said the team is representing Illinois when they play a Big Ten match and should go out there and fight the way that is expected from their team and school.

“We definitely want to be a top Big Ten (team), and I think we can be,” redshirt freshman Leigh Finnegan said. “I think we can compete with anybody.”