Illinois set for busy weekend at Blue Gray Classic

The Illinois women’s tennis team will try to keep building its confidence this weekend at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic, held in Montgomery, Ala.

Coming off a 4-3 loss at Notre Dame on Sunday, the Illini are ready to return to action. Senior Rachael White was named Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week following Sunday’s match. She and doubles teammate Allison Falkin took down the No. 3-ranked Notre Dame duo of Kristy Frilling and Shannon Mathews. White went on to a singles win as well.

“I definitely think it gives us more confidence,” said White of Sunday’s match. “We always go out there with the mindset that every team is a faceless opponent. We just try to play the same game plan that we always have.”

Their busiest weekend of the semester so far, the Blue Gray invite is an eight-team, three-day tournament in which each team is guaranteed three matches. Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso is looking forward to the opportunity that multiple matches present her team.

“The (Blue Gray) tournament is great,” Dasso said. “We are playing three matches in three days against tough competition that we don’t normally face.”

The matches will start Friday morning at 8:30 when the Illini take on Princeton. The Tigers are 5-2 on the season, with their two losses coming at the hands of No. 13 Georgia Tech and No. 25 Yale.

“Princeton is a tough team,” Dasso said. “We’ve had a lot of battles. I expect every single match we play, starting Friday, to be war out there.”

Going south in the month of February helps prepare teams to play outside, something the Midwest climate doesn’t always allow.

“Last week we got to hit outside a couple of times,” White said. “We’ve done quite a bit of conditioning, and I think it won’t change much for us. It’s great to get outside.”

The Illini have some experience playing outdoors already this season. They started the year Jan. 13 by playing Stephen F. Austin in Fort Meyers, Fla. Also, during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend held at Duke in Durham, N.C., Illinois held two outdoor practices.

“That particular match (against SFA) is going to help us because we’ve played a competitive match outside,” Dasso said. “That will be an advantage for us. I know for a fact we have played outside more than Princeton this year.”

The change in environment isn’t the only obstacle the Orange and Blue will face this weekend: playing three matches in three days can take a toll.

“I think it is an advantage because my assistants have done such a great job getting the girls motivated and showing them how important fitness is,” Dasso said. “This tournament benefits us in two ways. We are fit, fitter than any team we are going to play, and we have more depth. I have nine players that I truly believe in.”