Women’s tennis to attempt defeating Tennessee

Leigh+Finnegan+plays+in+the+Midwest+Blast+tennis+tournament+on+Nov.+7%2C+2008.+Erica+Magda%0A

Leigh Finnegan plays in the Midwest Blast tennis tournament on Nov. 7, 2008. Erica Magda

By Ros Dumlao

“Fired up,” “take ’em down” and “excited” are just a few of the words that are flying out of the mouths of the Illinois women’s tennis team regarding the new season.

After a six-year drought, the Illini made a NCAA Tournament appearance last season and also finished fourth in the Big Ten – their highest finish in four years. After the successful 2007-08 campaign, the Illini are hungry for more as they face No. 24 Tennessee on Saturday and Miami of Ohio on Sunday in their home openers of the spring season.

The team’s major concerns from last season were conditioning, staying healthy and doubles play.

But head coach Michelle Dasso now feels that her team is in good shape and committed to winning. After entering the Atkins Tennis Center an hour before Wednesday’s practice even began, that dedication was evident, as several players were already on the courts practicing.

Junior Kristina Minor was one of those players, and Dasso believes she has one of the best serves in college tennis. Minor is coming back from last September’s wrist surgery and looks stronger after suffering an ankle injury last season. She was cleared to play during winter break and said she is ready to go. She said her teammates have even called the ball machine her “boyfriend.”

Doubles play will be key in the Tennessee match, but the addition of freshmen Amy Allin and Chelcie Abajian is expected to immediately improve Illinois’ doubles lineup.

“(They have) natural instincts in doubles,” Dasso said. She also said they were both hard workers.

Illinois’ last match against Tennessee proved to be its last match of the 2008 season, as the Lady Vols beat the Illini in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Revenge may be in the back of the team’s mind.

“We know how good they are, but we got better,” Dasso said. “We’ve got the advantage at home and need the fire.”

Tennessee has two players, Samantha Orlin and Caitlin Whoriskey, ranked in singles and the No. 19 duo of Whoriskey and Maria Sorbello in doubles. The only ranked Illini in the polls is No. 89 redshirt sophomore Leigh Finnegan. Finnegan said her rank was exciting and a good start but not satisfying.

This may be the perfect attitude, as she and junior Megan Fudge will compose the base of the singles lineup.

Although the Illini are gearing up for a ranked team on Saturday, they must be careful of Miami of Ohio. The Redhawks have competed against two Big Ten foes already, beating Purdue and losing a close match against No. 30 Indiana.

“They’re like us. You can’t take them for granted,” Dasso said. “Our goal this season is to make the NCAA top 25. We want to pass the first round.”