Weekend duals await women’s tennis team

By Bret Greenberg

With the NCAA Championships nearing, the women’s tennis team is looking to tighten up its play this weekend when the Illini hit the road for two conference duels.

“We have three weekends of Big Ten matches before the Big Ten tournament, and we have a ways to go,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “Every day we have to make practice count. Everyone has to do their part to push each other because our ultimate goal is to make the NCAA tournament.”

The No. 62 Illini will need to be ranked in the top 42 or win the Big Ten tournament to receive a bid to the NCAAs. The next step toward this goal is proving they can take care of business against Penn State and a top-tier Michigan team.

“It’s mostly mental now,” junior Shivani Dave said. “We can’t be scared of teams we are playing. We have been working hard all semester and I think we are going to keep improving.”

Illinois (7-7) has made strides all season and both players and coaches feel they are nearing their full potential.

However, they feel it’s important to fix weaknesses, especially if they are lingering.

“I think that we can always get better as a team and there are things we are going to work on, especially that doubles point,” Dasso said. “That is my number one goal. We aren’t going to give up on it. We are going to keep doing drills and switching up teams to try and figure it out because it is so important.”

Dasso’s philosophy on doubles is that the team must make 70 percent of its first serves, returns and volleys. She feels that if the team can achieve those numbers, then it will be successful.

Illinois faces No. 22 Michigan on Friday at 6 p.m. in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Wolverines (10-4) are coming off a 7-0 victory against Minnesota and have been hot in the Big Ten. The Illini will then travel to State College, Pa., to take on the struggling Nittany Lions (7-8) at 11 a.m. Sunday.

“It’s crunch time now,” Dasso said. “All of our remaining matches are so important.

“We have to treat each one like it’s the last match of the season.”