NCAA berth in women’s reach



By Bret Greenberg

Practice may not make the Illini perfect, but it can help them make the NCAA Championships.

The Illini have been balancing team practice, individual skill workouts and rest to prepare themselves for must-win matches on the road against No. 29 Indiana and No. 31 Ohio State this weekend.

“We are going to have to move well, communicate well and close tight,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “If we can do these things, then we can potentially walk away with two wins this weekend.”

With four matches left before the Big Ten Tournament, each one is as important as the next.

The Hoosiers and Buckeyes are currently on pace to make the NCAAs, but No. 58 Illinois is currently on the outside looking in.

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“We know both teams this weekend are going to come out fighting,” sophomore Kristina Minor said. “They want to go to (the NCAAs) just as much as we do. We definitely want to take their spots, so they better be ready.”

This week, Illini doubles teams have been outside working on overhead shots, because Dasso said the Hoosiers like to lob, meaning Illinois will have to hit more consistently through the wind.

With work, the team has seen progress in doubles, as partners have begun to jell.

“Megan (Fudge) and (Shivani Dave) call themselves the walls because they hit everything back and they have amazing lobs,” freshman Annie McCarthy said. “Kristina and I have very strong serves and returns. We are very scary up at the net. I think other teams are intimidated by our height and strength.”

Because the team came off two grueling matches last weekend, Dasso ran an optional individual skills practice Tuesday.

Sophomore Megan Fudge was working through a sore back but got some practice in this week.

Dasso expects her to play both matches this weekend.

“Megan is working on her first serve because it is a weapon and she hasn’t been hitting it as much,” Dasso said. “She worked on her serving, volleying and also coming up to the net on second serves. She needs to get to the net and be aggressive.”

During matches, the Illini have looked calm and focused this season.

To get into this mind-set, the team has a few pregame rituals.

“We like to pump ourselves up by listening to N’SYNC,” McCarthy said. “But we also like to make each other laugh to stay relaxed. We feel like we can make more shots when we aren’t as tense out there.”

Illinois (8-8) will travel to Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday to take on Indiana (16-5). On Sunday, the Illini will be in Columbus, Ohio, to face Ohio State (17-4).

Both of these conference matches are scheduled for 10 a.m.