Illinois women’s tennis team riding winning streak heading into conference play


Brian Bauer

Illinois’ Daniela Pedraza Novak returns the ball in the match against Northwestern at the Atkins Tennis Center on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016

By Christian Evans, Staff writer

After beating all three opponents Illinois women’s tennis faced this past weekend, the team is currently on a four-match winning streak.

Head coach Evan Clark attributed his team’s recent success to its ability to execute in important situations.

“We have gotten some confidence,” Clark said. “Against Maryland, we played the big points well and were able to win some really key third sets, which has been the difference in us not winning some matches in the past.”

Sophomore Daniela Pedraza Novak lost her first set in a tiebreaker 6-7 (11-13) against Maryland’s  Cassandre Thebault but recovered 6-3, 6-4 to win the match. She said her improvement mentally over the course of the season is what led to her winning that big third set.

“I have done better fighting my way through tough matches,” Pedraza Novak said. “It is really tough mentally to come back and reset after losing, but I am getting better at forgetting about what happened and starting from zero.”

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Senior Louise Kwong clinched the Illini’s match win by defeating Alexandra Stanova at No. 1 singles in three sets.

Kwong went 5-0 over the weekend, which led to her earning the Big Ten Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week honor for the second time in three weeks.

Kwong said that overall she and the team are rounding into form at the right time.

“I think starting off conference play with a 3-0 weekend is really big for us,” Kwong said. “Especially just with momentum because now we have four consecutive away matches, so that was a good start.”

The Illini play two of those four matches this weekend, starting with Iowa on Friday, and Nebraska on Sunday.

Iowa (13-3, 3-1) won its last match against Minnesota, 4-2 to wrap up its four-match road trip.

The Hawkeyes are 7-0 at home, and Clark said the Illini will need an energetic effort to get a win.

“Any team in the Big Ten is a little more comfortable on their home court,” Clark said. “It is really important to win the energy battle and get on them early. Whether you’re playing well or not, the energy carries a lot of weight, so we need to win that.”

Nebraska (16-2, 3-1) won its last match against Wisconsin, 5-2.

The Cornhuskers have had 10 shutouts on the season and only five matches during the year that were decided by three points or less.

The Illini have had nine matches of that nature, and Clark said that the experience factor will be an advantage against Nebraska and the rest of the conference.

“With playing a tough out-of-conference schedule, the girls have seen the highest level and been close to beating them,” Clark said. “We have been in the trenches this year, and I think that experience will pay off tremendously as we finish off in the Big Ten.”

This road trip in the Big Ten will be the first for the Illini since a 6-1 loss at then-No. 23 Northwestern in February.

Clark said the team is looking forward to making a push in the Big Ten.

“Non-conference did not go as well as planned and all we have left now is conference,” he said. “The girls keep talking about making a statement in the Big Ten and we certainly feel like with the remaining matches that we can do that.”

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