Illini celebrate seniors, defeat Hawkeyes 6-1

Sophomore Kristina Minor lunges toward a low ball during a doubles match against Iowa on Sunday in Urbana. Erica Magda

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Sophomore Kristina Minor lunges toward a low ball during a doubles match against Iowa on Sunday in Urbana. Erica Magda

By Bret Greenberg

On a day celebrating the careers of seniors Momei Qu and Alejandra Meza Cuadra, the team couldn’t have sent them off better. Qu led off singles, defeating her opponent 6-4, 6-1 on court six while Meza Cuadra took it to her opponent 8-6 in an exhibition singles match.

The play from the seniors sparked a 6-1 win against the No. 56 Hawkeyes (12-9) on Senior Day.

Both seniors received a bouquet of flowers and a gift basket before the match to thank them for their hard work and dedication for the past four years.

“These things always show how much people care and appreciate your efforts,” Qu said on Sunday. “There are always people around you that support what you do. It’s very nice of them.”

With the home fans supporting the team on the outside courts of the Atkins Tennis Center, the Illini (11-9) dropped the doubles point but went on a tear in singles, sweeping all matches. Qu said she was determined to walk away from her last home match a winner.

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    “It’s my last home match so I told myself to play the way I always want to play,” Qu said. “I wanted to play aggressive from the baseline and move my opponents around as much as possible.”

    Aggressiveness was a theme in the match on Sunday. Redshirt freshman Leigh Finnegan showed she could play aggressively, posting an impressive win against Iowa’s Milica Veselinovic in three sets. Veselinovic was undefeated in singles conference play going into the match.

    “I stepped up on the big points and played my game,” Finnegan said. “She wasn’t a kind of player that would give up easy points. My forehand was going well, so I was able to attack with it.”

    At the end of the match, the seniors felt mixed emotions knowing their regular season had come to an end.

    “It’s sad because it’s been four great years and I will miss all the girls,” Meza Cuadra said. “But at the same time it’s nice to be able to move on.”

    On Saturday, Illinois beat the No. 69 Golden Gophers 4-3 in a nail biter. After the Illini gave up the doubles point and two of the first three singles matches, they rebounded, closing out the last three singles matches.

    But the seniors will not be moving on quite yet. The team will compete in the Big Ten Tournament next week as the No. 4 seed. It will face off against No. 5-seeded Ohio State on Friday at 9 a.m. If the team manages a ranking of No. 42 or better, it will receive a bid to the NCAA Championships.