Illini to take on Fighting Irish

 

 

By Bret Greenberg

Hot off their first Big Ten victory last weekend, the Illini are on the road again Wednesday to take on head coach Michelle Dasso’s former team and alma mater, Notre Dame.

The No. 23 Fighting Irish are the third top-25 team the Illini face on their tough 2008 schedule.

“We don’t have anything to lose because we are playing one of the top teams in the nation,” senior Alejandra Meza Cuadra said. “If we win, it will be good proof that we can (accomplish) our high goals.”

No. 61 Illinois has used its days off to rest and lightly practice while concentrating on individual skills before Wednesday. The Illini are also focused on maintaining the team’s positive mentality.

“I think we all need to stay confident, stay supportive and stick to the basics,” freshman Marisa Lambropoulos said. “I think if we do all of these things and stay mentally tough, we will be fine.”

Dasso will return to her old stomping grounds, the Eck Tennis Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., for the 2:30 p.m. dual.

The Illini head coach played tennis for the Irish from 1998-2001, leaving her mark on the record books in nearly every statistical category including singles season victories (40) and career singles victories (140).

In 2003 she returned to the team, this time as the assistant coach of the women’s tennis program, and remained with the team through the 2005-06 season. In 2006, Dasso received National Assistant Coach of the Year honors.

“It’s always more special for me when we play against Notre Dame because of the relationships I still have with players and staff,” Dasso said. “I respect their program, but I would love to go home a winner and be able to rub it in.”

The history between Dasso and Notre Dame has increased her players’ incentive to perform well.

Meza Cuadra said Dasso wants the players to show Notre Dame that Illinois has a high quality tennis program.

Last season the Illini lost to the Fighting Irish 7-0 at the Atkins Tennis Center, though Dasso thinks the Illinois tennis program has made noticeable improvements from last season.

The Fighting Irish (8-7) are coming off a 7-0 win over Hawaii last Friday.

The Illini (5-4) are energized from their 4-3, come-from-behind victory over Purdue on Saturday and hope the momentum carries over into Wednesday’s match.