Illini Women’s Tennis adds serious firepower



By Bret Greenberg

Four months ago in Hawthorne, N.Y., Chelcie Abajian was finishing up her senior year at Commack High School. Halfway across the nation in Dallas, Texas, Amy Allin was finishing her studies as well. She was home-schooled since her junior year so she would have enough time to train and travel to junior tennis tournaments. But today, they have come together to help a tennis program that a year ago went 7-3 in Big Ten play before making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2003-2004 season.

In landing the two new freshmen, head coach Michelle Dasso took a step toward remedying what was lacking at times last season.

“Both of them have had some great success in doubles,” Dasso said. “Last year we really struggled in that area, so I think this will be an advantage for us. They also bring a great work ethic to our team. They are not only going to push one another, but also the rest of the team.”

Allin demonstrated this work ethic right out of the gate, showing the rest of the team her strength during conditioning workouts.

“Amy is in phenomenal shape,” Dasso said. “She is at the top of every conditioning test we do. She is very self-motivated and such a team player. When you look at what makes a successful college tennis player, that’s a lot of it.”

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Abajian has had a slower start to her collegiate campaign because of an appendectomy she had in May. She is currently cleared for all sport-related activities but is searching to find her game again. In her senior year of high school, she had surgery on her wrist to remove a bone spur as well.

“Chelcie has really had a string of bad luck with her injuries,” Dasso said. “I think she was under the radar a bit, but I know that if she stays healthy, she is going to surprise a lot of people. I have been impressed with her drilling, but I know she has to get some matches under her belt. This fall is about her getting tournament tough. I am confident that she’s going to get better and better with each match.”

The Illini are adding two new players with two very different styles of play. Allin has shifted her focus from being the aggressor on the court to trying to outlast her opponents instead.

“My goal is to outwork my opponents by grinding them down,” Allin said. “Also, I’m left handed, so I’m trying to use that as an advantage. On serves, it spins a different direction which is tough because people aren’t used to it. Also, when I set up cross-court rallies, it’s my forehand to their backhand. So if I can control the point, it’s huge for me.”

Abajian, on the other hand, likes to be the aggressor in matches and feels comfortable attacking the net.

“I try to use my forehand in any way that I can to open up the court, and I absolutely love the net,” Abajian said. “Doubles is my stronger game because I love to interact with a teammate and it’s a better game for more play at the net.”

The Illini will be kicking off their fall season with the Colorado Invitational on Friday, where Allin is scheduled to make her debut for the Orange and Blue.