Illinois heads to Madison to compete in Big Ten tournament

Senior+Emilee+Duong+finishes+up+a+match+against+Michigan+State+April+9+at+Atkins+Tennis+Center.+The+team+prepares+to+take+on+Purdue+in+the+Big+Ten+tournament+Thursday.

Angel Saldivar

Senior Emilee Duong finishes up a match against Michigan State April 9 at Atkins Tennis Center. The team prepares to take on Purdue in the Big Ten tournament Thursday.

By Will Payne, Assistant Sports Editor

This week, the Illinois women’s tennis team is traveling to Madison, Wisconsin to play in the Big Ten tournament. The Big Ten is one of the strongest conferences in the country when it comes to women’s tennis, so this will be a great opportunity to show how much the team has improved over the year.

Illinois finished off the regular season with an 8-8 record, which lands them in seventh place in the Big Ten heading into the tournament. The Illini came out the gates slowly to begin the year, as they fell to a 1-5 record after their 4-0 loss to Michigan on March 6. After the match in Ann Arbor, slowly but surely, Illinois racked up wins against its Big Ten foes and climbed its way up the rankings.

Its last match of the regular season was the most important, as Illinois took down the 17-4 Northwestern Wildcats 4-3 in an incredible comeback victory. Despite the week off, the confidence and momentum of the team is at an all-time high, as they look to capitalize on it ahead of the matches in Madison. 

The 7-seeded Illini’s first opponent of the tournament will be the No. 10 seed Purdue Boilermakers Thursday at 9 a.m. central time. Illinois completed the season sweep over Purdue, winning 4-3 in Urbana March 21 and 4-1 in West Lafayette April 11.

Though Illinois has had Purdue’s number over the course of the season, head coach Evan Clark knows everything changes in the tournament. The Illini have to enter their matches Thursday with a measured confidence.

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    “We feel good about it,” Clark said. “I mean obviously Purdue is a great team. Both matches were really close, and so we know it is not going to be easy. On Thursday, the season kind of starts over.”

    If Illinois is victorious against Purdue Thursday, it will have to pass through a gauntlet of the Big Ten’s best if it wants to lift the trophy come Sunday. 

    With a win against the Boilermakers, the Illini will face off against No. 2 Michigan Wolverines Friday at 9 a.m. central time. Michigan boasts one of the best records in the country at 15-2. It defeated Illinois in the only matchup of the season.

    Even if spirits are high, and many are hoping for an Illini Cinderella run, Clark is taking things one step at a time, as he has confidence in his players. However, he does not want the team to get too ahead of themselves.

    “We’re just taking it one match at a time,” Clark said. “We haven’t even thought about the next round, but we certainly know what this team is capable of and our ability level. And now it is just a matter of being consistent with that ability level over multiple days.”

     

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