Illinois finishes off eventful season with respectable record


Angel Saldivar

Senior Emilee Duong celebrates winning a point with her teammates cheering her on from a neighboring court at the match against Michigan State April 9. The team capped off the year with a 9-9 record.

By Will Payne, Assistant Sports Editor

After a solid end to the season, the Illinois women’s tennis team capped off the year with a 9-9 record. Throughout the regular season, the Illini loved being at Atkins Tennis Center, as they finished with a 5-3 home record. For the safety of players, coaches and staff, fans were not allowed at home matches, though the team had no trouble pumping each other up during singles and doubles matches. 

The season began in late January with the three-day Purdue Invitational. The team had not played in 11 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and head coach Evan Clark was excited to have his team back on the courts.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see our team back on the courts competing again,” Clark said. “We’ve all missed it so much, and we are grateful to be back doing what we do best.”

After the tournament in West Lafayette, the Illini opened up scored matches in the Big Ten on Feb. 12 against Iowa. Despite some strong individual performances in their February matches, the Illini didn’t get their first win until Feb. 28 against Minnesota. 

Against the Golden Gophers, the Illini came out strong from the beginning. Doubles teams of sophomore Josie Frazier and senior Asuka Kawai, along with seniors Sasha Belaya and Emilee Duong, won their respective matches.

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The great play continued in singles, as Frazier came through for Illinois in her singles match (6-4, 6-3) to clinch the first win of the year for the team by a score of 4-3. Though the Illini finally got their first win, they had some serious ground to make up, as they sat a 1-4. Luckily, their prospects would change in the months to come. 

After a 4-0 loss against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Illinois caught fire in the month of March. It won five out of its eight matches, including a big 4-3 win against Iowa and 7-0 drubbing of Indiana.

Previously in the year, the Illini traveled to Iowa City to face off against the Hawkeyes in their first scored match of the Big Ten season. They lost this matchup 4-2, but when the two sides met in Urbana on March 13, the story was quite different. 

Iowa won the doubles point to begin the day, but Illinois stormed back in individual play. Sophomore Ashley Yeah won on court five (6-2, 7-5), and freshman Kate Duong won on court two (6-4, 6-3) to build some momentum for the Illini. 

The score between the two teams was all square at 3-3 heading into the final match, and Emilee Duong delivered with a fantastic performance in a thrilling match. She won (6-2, 6-8 (5), 6-1) against Iowa’s Samantha Mannix to seal the victory for Illinois.

Moving on to April, Illinois began its preparations for the Big Ten tournament at the end of the month, as it had only three more matches in the regular season. After a disappointing 4-3 loss to Michigan State and a 4-1 win against Purdue Boilermakers, Illinois was set to finish off against Northwestern.

Northwestern traveled down I-57 on April 18 for a matchup with the Illini, and going into the day, the odds were not in Illinois’ favor. Northwestern was the No. 7 team in the country and were ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten, boasting a stellar 17-3 record.

Despite the Wildcats’ successful year, this was not going to deter any efforts from the Illini, especially on Senior Day where they celebrated the contributions of Mia Rabinowitz, Sasha Belaya, Emilee Duong and Asuka Kawai. 

Illinois pulled off one of the biggest upsets in school history, defeating Northwestern 4-3. The Wildcats took the doubles points and won singles matches on courts six and four to go up 3-0.

With the outcome looking bleak for the Illini, the team did not fold, but they instead began to rally back. Asuka Kawai won 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 on court one, Emilee Duong won on court three 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 and Josie Frazier won on court five 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).

Tied at 3-3, the fate of the Illini was all down to freshman Kate Duong, who came through for the team on Senior Day. She won on court two against Northwestern’s Julie Byrne (6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3) and with that win, Illinois completed its upset and comeback victory.

“It was special for so many reasons,” Clark said. “We hadn’t beaten them in the last couple of years, and for it to come on Senior Day was a nice treat as well. The four seniors contributed so much to our program.”

Illinois traveled up to Madison in late April to compete in the Big Ten tournament. Based on their regular-season results, the Illini were the No. 7 seed in the tournament, which set them up for a first-round matchup with 10-seed Purdue. 

After Illinois pulled off a nail-biting victory to defeat Purdue, 2-seed Michigan was waiting in the next round. Michigan defeated Illinois convincingly, 4-0, and this matchup ended the Illini’s season. 

Though Illinois missed out on a trip to the NCAA women’s tennis tournament, everyone involved with the team should hold their heads high. This season was filled with highs and lows, but the Illini showed their resilience countless times.



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