Illini women look for solutions in doubles play

By Ros Dumlao

Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso said she was about to have a heart attack after Sunday’s tightly contested doubles matches against Miami of Ohio. If the Illini doubles players can’t play better and pull out a few wins this weekend, Dasso’s heart may reach the breaking point.

The No. 36 Illini (1-1) are in Palo Alto, Calif., to participate in the inaugural ITA kickoff weekend, an event that gathers the top 60 women’s teams in the nation together at 15 different campus sites. Illinois hopes a break from the cold will provide the momentum to improve its doubles on Friday as it faces UNLV (3-0), which sits two spots behind the Illini in the rankings. They will face either No. 5 Stanford or No. 51 Colorado on Saturday.

Dasso said the problem with the doubles play is more mental than physical.

“We have the talent this year. We have doubles teams that are good. And that’s why it’s a little more frustrating, because we (have to) do a better job,” said Dasso.

Illinois did win one of its doubles matches on Sunday.

“Good job goes out to our number-three doubles,” Dasso said.

“Annie McCarthy stepped in there today, and to close out the match, she had I think three or maybe four in a row first serves and that’s what we’re looking for on those big points.

“The bottom line is we don’t have to practice. But when they get to the big points, they (have to) trust themselves.”

Sophomore Leigh Finnegan said that “confidence may be a little bit of our issue.”

Although doubles is one of the team’s concerns, the Illini have shown improvement in conditioning, which they say was another issue coming into the season. Now, it is a key to their solid singles performances.

“Clearly (Sunday) our conditioning was put to the test,” said junior Kristina Minor after Sunday’s match.

“Everyone has done really well, I mean just running down balls that we wouldn’t have made last year.”

Illinois took three of the six singles matches against then-No. 24 Tennessee on Saturday and five from Miami on Sunday. Junior Megan Fudge, Finnegan and freshman Amy Allin all won a pair of matches.

With the matches moving outdoors this weekend, Dasso said she might switch the lineup. Part of the switch may be because of freshman Chelcie Abajian’s (0-2) struggles in singles play.

“It’s tough. She’s playing that three spot,” said Dasso.

“But I think that this experience and playing at home is only going to help her. She’s only going to get better.”

Illinois hopes its full week of outdoor training in Florida earlier in the season helps this weekend.

“(There are) no excuses about moving back outdoors. That’s what I told them,” Dasso said.