Illinois falls to Northwestern in semifinals, looks toward future

For a second straight year, the Illinois women’s tennis team came up short in Big Ten Tournament semifinals against eventual-champion Northwestern.

Saturday’s match marked the fourth straight year the Illini advanced to the semifinals; all were losses, three of them to the Wildcats.

“I think we had a decent run, but we’re pretty disappointed our season came to an early finish here,” Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso said. “Northwestern’s a very good team, they outplayed us … they were just better than us (Saturday).”

The 4-0 loss halted Illinois’ postseason run after it had defeated “Michigan State”: and Purdue. The Illini were hoping for a second chance to beat Northwestern and to face Michigan in Sunday’s finals.

The Illini lost to the Wildcats in the regular season 5-2, but felt they played well against then-No. 16 Northwestern on “April 10”: Illinois has not defeated Northwestern since April 4, 2004.

“They’ve certainly had our number the last couple years and that’s just something that’s gonna have to continue to motivate us throughout the summer,” Dasso said.

Dasso said Northwestern and “Michigan “:— the two teams that made the tournament final — have raised the bar, and Illinois needs to “reach that bar and raise it ourselves.”

The match started poorly for the Illini after they lost the doubles point in two straight matches, heading to singles with a 1-0 deficit. Singles was not much better, with Illinois losing the first three in straight sets to close out the match.

“I think the coaches talked about it after doubles that maybe there wasn’t enough energy there as there needed to be,” senior Annie McCarthy said.

Despite the loss, McCarthy said she does not think there were any regrets on the team and that they did fight hard against No. 19 Northwestern.

The tournament will most likely end the Illini’s 2011 season after they finished tied for fifth in the Big Ten with Wisconsin. Team and individual NCAA qualifiers will be announced later this week.

Dasso said the team is “done for the year” with likely no individuals or doubles teams advancing to the NCAA tournament. The Illini are also no longer holding practices and will have a team meeting Wednesday for the returners to discuss the future.

“I’m very excited about next year, I saw some good things this year even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but “Amy Allin”: stepping up, Rachael White competing so much better,” Dasso said. “We’ll just take care of those injuries and get ourselves fired up.”

Dasso also said the next few weeks are “miserable” because the Illini have to watch other teams compete in the NCAAs, but she wants that to help encourage Illinois for next season.

“Our girls are just gonna have to use that as motivation for the summer to keep working harder,” Dasso said.

Allin, who will be a one of three seniors next year, also looks forward to the new season.

“I’m so excited about next year, it’s all looking forward from this point out,” Allin said. “I’m really excited about our freshmen coming in, I’m excited to have (Marisa Lambropoulos) back next year. Just put ourselves to have a good season next year.”

McCarthy — who competed in No. 5 singles for the first time in her career in her last match, while never losing a match in the tournament — said she thinks next year’s team will be wiser.

“I think we kind of had a bumpy road this season and really learned a lot about what makes a good team and everybody being on board,” McCarthy said. “They’re going to turn things around and probably have the best season yet.”