Women’s tennis to prove worth at ITA Championships

By Bret Greenberg

On Thursday, the women’s tennis team will present its case for why it should be taken seriously. The ITA Midwest Regional Championships will be the Illini’s chance to see how they compare to the best in the Midwest – a gauge of how far they have come this fall as a squad and what they still need to fix.

“This is our big tournament of the fall,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “This is our chance to show other teams in the Big Ten and the Midwest how hard we’ve been working and what we represent.”

In singles, senior Shivani Dave, junior Megan Fudge, sophomore Marisa Lambropoulos and redshirt sophomore Leigh Finnegan will be competing in the main draw that begins Saturday in East Lansing, Mich.

The rest of the Illini will be vying for one of the final eight singles spots in the tournament by competing in qualifying rounds beginning Thursday.

The Illini will send three tandems into the main qualifying round Friday in an effort to gain valuable experience in doubles play.

Fudge and Finnegan are set to team up in the number one doubles spot, where the duo went 12-13 last year.

Roll with the big dogs

After an injury-plagued senior season and a summer appendectomy, freshman Chelcie Abajian is 100 percent and trying to gain as much college match experience as she can. After going undefeated in doubles and tallying two singles victories at Mizzou’s Ace for a Cure Tournament on Oct. 3, Abajian struggled to maintain her collegiate rhythm at the Northwestern Invitational a week later, finishing 2-2 in doubles and 1-2 in singles.

“The Missouri tournament gave me a boost of confidence,” Abajian said. “But there was better competition at Northwestern which really made me realize what I have to improve to play at this level.

“I need to improve my serving, and I need to get used to the competitiveness and the general atmosphere of college tennis.”

Dasso said the best is yet to come for Abajian, who prefers to play on indoor courts. The ITA Midwest Regional Championships will be her first indoor college tournament.

“Chelcie is a natural indoor player,” Dasso said. “She has great timing and likes to move the ball around a lot. With the lack of elements, she will be striking the ball better, so I’m excited for it.”

Dating the ball machine?

Junior Kristina Minor is still working her way back from the wrist surgery she had at the beginning of September to fix a tear in the triangular fibrocartilage complex of her left wrist.

The righty performs rehabilitation exercises daily on the sideline and has resumed practice with the exception of two-handed backhands, serving and practice matches.

Minor has not traveled with the team to tournaments this fall.

Minor returns to the doctor Thursday to have her fitted brace removed and is likely get the green light to start serving. However, she said two-handed backhands will most likely have to wait until December.

“The stuff that I can hit is actually what I need to work on,” Minor said. “It’s frustrating at times, but by January my forehand is going to improve and both my returns and volleys will be good to go. Plus, now I get to work on irritating people with my slice.”

Minor said she will be 100 percent by the start of the spring season.

But until then, she has been putting in a lot of work with the ball machines at the Atkins Tennis Center.

“We like to tease Kristina that the ball machine is her new boyfriend,” Dasso said. “She is keeping her spirits up and doing everything she can.

“Missing the fall tournaments stinks, but she’s making the most of it by improving her conditioning and individual skills.”