Puerto Rico won’t be all fun in sun for tennis team



By Bret Greenberg

After a loss to No. 23 Notre Dame on Wednesday, the Illini are hoping the sunny skies of Puerto Rico will recharge them as they take on No. 11 North Carolina on Sunday.

The Illini are up against a top-25 team for the second match in a row and for the fourth time in 2008.

“We need to train hard down there and believe we are as good as anybody on any given day,” redshirt freshman Leigh Finnegan said. “Other teams’ rankings should not mean a whole lot to us.”

The Illini feel they can compete with the top teams, and it will be important to have endurance to win longer points against higher competition.

Illinois (5-5) will be playing on outdoor courts for the first time since Feb. 3 against Florida State. The team has less experience playing outside, but feel they can quickly adapt. Coaches told players that the weather is projected to be in the 80s in Puerto Rico, and wind is the only possible hazard.

After their dual on Sunday, the Illini will remain in Humacao, Puerto Rico for a Thursday match against Princeton.

With three days between matches, the Illini should have plenty of time to relax and soak up some sun. But coaches, including the teams’ strength and conditioning coach, have other plans in mind.

“We will probably practice at least two times a day,” freshman Annie McCarthy said. “We will be doing some conditioning, a lot of court running and maybe some ultimate frisbee.”

After the Illini fly back to Champaign, the team will depart the next morning for East Lansing, Mich., to take on Michigan State (8-5) on March 23. Illinois will only have one day to recuperate.

“It’s definitely not going to be easy,” Finnegan said.

“We can’t focus on being tired or the travel situation. We just need to go out there ready to compete.”

It will be the second Big Ten match up of the season for both teams. Last season the Spartans defeated the Illini 5-2 at Atkins Tennis Center.

“It’s important for us to get another Big Ten win under our belts,” head coach Michelle Dasso said.

“We need to go out there, grind the match out and hopefully get some revenge from last year.”