Illini women’s tennis looks to improve on .500 season

By Carson Gourdie, Staff Writer

After a 9-9 campaign last season, the Illini look to improve with fresh faces after losing four athletes to graduation.

While head coach Evan Clark’s program got off to a slow start last season — losing the first four contests — Illinois got hot late, as the Illini won four out of five meets before falling to the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten tournament. While seniors helped Illinois down the stretch, Clark has young talent returning that contributed heavily, specifically junior Josie Frazier.

The Scottsdale, Arizona, native took a much heavier load compared to her freshman season, and the results improved as well. Frazier came to the Illini with a lot of excitement, as she was ranked the No. 1 overall prospect from the state of Arizona. After only seeing action in 22 combined events — singles and doubles — as a freshman, Frazier more than doubled her appearances last season, placing her in 53 matches.

While Frazier finished 11-12 in her double matches, she excelled in singles competition, securing a 15-5 record against mostly Big Ten rivals. As a sophomore, Frazier showed a niche as a closer, as she clinched two Illini victories over Michigan State and Minnesota.

While they didn’t perform as well as Frazier in singles, sophomore Kate Duong and junior Ashley Yeah both return to Champaign-Urbana as the top duo on the roster. The pair, who both have over a .500 winning percentage in singles, took their games to the next level in doubles play, finishing the year with a 12-5 record.

Duong, who finished 14-8 in singles, was a consistent presence last season, and she played even better late in the season, as she clinched a victory over the No. 7 Northwestern Wildcats on senior day.

Yeah, who is also a California native, took a big step forward last season, as she improved her singles win total from six to 12. The computer science major also helped secure a ranked victory over Northwestern in a doubles match.

While they did drop five games in conference play, they played their best when it mattered most, as they finished 2-0 in the conference tournament.

Last season, while finishing .500 on the year, Illinois struggled to compete against the conference’s best. While they did avoid the Buckeyes, who were co-regular season champions, last season, the Illini lost both meets to the Michigan Wolverines, dropping each contest 4-0.

But Illinois did show bright spots. After losing to a top 10 Northwestern team, 6-1, in late February, the Illini knocked off the Wildcats in the regular season finale, 4-3. The Wildcats ended up finishing 19-6 and made the second round of the NCAA championships.

This season will be the first time the Illini will play a full schedule since 2018-2019, when they finished 16-12 with a 6-3 record in conference play. The last two seasons haven’t been the same because of COVID-19, and the records are skewed because of it.

With a full season on deck, the Illini will be able to compete all across the nation, especially down south with invites in Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. The full conference schedule hasn’t been released yet.

The Illini open up the season Friday in Champaign, as they host the ITA Midwest Regional, with the event lasting until Monday.

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