Illini women’s tennis takes sixth straight

The Illinois women’s tennis team has its sights set on making history.

With the program never having won a Big Ten title, the Illini have won six straight matches. The latest in the streak, a 6-1 win at Minnesota on Sunday, moves them to 4-1 in conference play, and 12-5 overall.

“Our confidence level is pretty high,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “Doubles really set the tone today. No. 2 doubles just rolled today, 8-1, and No. 3 doubles won 8-4, so winning decisively gave us the momentum in the singles.”

The combination of freshman Melissa Kopinski and senior Marisa Lambropoulos in the No. 1 doubles spot beat the 39th-ranked doubles pairing of Natallia Pintusava and Magdalena Wiecha 8-1, as Illinois swept all three doubles matches. In singles, Illinois took five of six to secure the 6-1 final margin, with Lambropoulos winning her fifth singles match in a row. Kopinski, Allison Falkin, Amy Allin and Rachael White all picked up singles wins for Illinois. The only loss on the day for the Illini was at the No. 6 spot, with Julia Courter beating Breanne Smutko, 7-5, 6-2.

“It feels good,” Lambropoulos said. “(The streak) has really changed our season. We’re coming out just as fired up for the Minnesota match as we did the Texas match.”

With Michigan (12-5, 5-0 Big Ten) winning both of its conference matches this week, Illinois stayed just one game back in the conference standings. With a trip to face the conference leaders coming next weekend, both coaches and players are staying grounded.

“Realistically, we need to focus on the next match,” Dasso said. “With the next match being Michigan, we need to prepare for it the same way as we would any other match … I really can’t comment on trying to win a Big Ten championship yet, we got to really focus on one match at a time.”

“We don’t need to worry about what anyone else is doing,” Lambropoulos said. “Just take care of each court and the individual point that each of us can contribute to this team.”

Dasso said the team has learned to control its emotion, referencing the Northwestern match earlier in the year — a 5-2 loss for the Illini, and their last loss before this streak — as a time when the team was too amped up for competition. Since taking that loss, the team has reeled off six in a row and is playing its best tennis of the year.