Illinois women’s tennis to test freshman, doubles play

By Bret Greenberg

Astronauts have space shuttle simulators, politicians have mirrors and writers have first drafts.

For the Illinois women’s tennis team, a mock dual tournament will serve as its practice for the arduous Big Ten season in the spring.

Due to NCAA rules, when Illinois hosts its 2008 Midwest Blast tournament this weekend, no two teams will be allowed to play singles and doubles against each other in the same day like the normal dual format, which is reserved for the spring season.

However, head coach Michelle Dasso wants to treat each day of the three-day tournament like a regular dual because the team excels under those conditions.

“I think the fall is tough because you have to grind it out with some individual tournaments and matches,” Dasso said. “But I think team chemistry is one of our biggest strengths because all of our girls are extremely supportive of one another. So when we have a chance to play all together in a hidden dual format, I think we’re going to thrive.”

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    Dasso also wants freshmen Amy Allin and Chelcie Abajian to gain the experience of a dual match at home. Allin, who played in three indoor tournaments before college, is eager to see Illini fans.

    “I’m really excited to play as a team and finally have fans here,” Allin said. “Playing inside is going to be cleaner and faster without the outdoor elements. Also, since we’re at home, we will have our team moms bring us snacks.”

    The 2008 Midwest Blast will feature top competition from Notre Dame, Wichita State and Denver. Each individual team matchup will consist of six singles matches and three doubles matches, without brackets or official scoring.

    Scoring aside, the Illini will strive for a good showing on their home court at the Atkins Tennis Center.

    “We are much more prepared mentally and physically,” junior Megan Fudge said. “Our fitness is very good, and even though we are a younger team than last year, I feel like everyone has matured a lot and we are ready.”

    Traces of this maturity have been displayed during practice, where the Illini have made great efforts to improve their doubles. Last season, Illinois had a doubles record of 48-71. Dasso said the team has a whole new mind-set this season when it comes to doubles play.

    “I think, in general, we are starting to trust ourselves out there,” Dasso said. “We are getting good court position and playing doubles the way we are supposed to. We are playing up at the net and pushing girls, as opposed to being tentative and playing on our back foot.”

    The Illini have the chance to prove their improvement in doubles when they kick off the tournament against Denver on Friday at 9:30 a.m.

    “This is a chance to show our crowd what we’ve been working so hard for all year,” Dasso said. “It’s going to be extra special for the freshmen to play at home for the first time.”