Illinois women’s tennis claims Braggin’ Rights with victory over Missouri

Sophomore+Kate+Duong+readies+herself+as+her+doubles+partner%2C+freshman+Megan+Heuser%2C+serves+the+ball+during+their+match+against+Missouri+on+Sunday.+The+Illini+swept+the+Tigers%2C+4-0.+

Sidney Malone

Sophomore Kate Duong readies herself as her doubles partner, freshman Megan Heuser, serves the ball during their match against Missouri on Sunday. The Illini swept the Tigers, 4-0.

By James Kim, Staff Writer

The battle cries were in full swing as Illinois women’s tennis took down Missouri on a snowy Sunday in Urbana. The Braggin’ Rights honors belong to the Illini as they continued what is now a five-match winning streak at home. Illinois has yet to drop a point at Atkins Tennis Center as they dished out another sweep victory.

“I was really pleased and really proud of their performance,” said head coach Evan Clark. “We kind of circled this one as a match that was going to be really, really tough. We were 5-3 heading into this match and had played some good teams close and (have been) trying to go over the hump against good teams. I think Mizzou is a really good team, so I was really pleased with how we handled everything.”

In the process of handing the Tigers their third loss, the Illini claimed their sixth win of the season. The Illinois-Missouri rivalry remains strong across all sports, and this was the first time in 40 years that these two women’s tennis programs have gone head to head against one another. The dominant victory at Atkins was exactly what the team was looking for, and it was an especially happy result for Clark.

“Winning 4-0 was the icing on the cake,” Clark said. “I grew up not liking Mizzou. They were the team I didn’t like growing up, and this was my first time playing them as a coach, so it was great to beat them.”

Illinois got off to a strong start in doubles play, as the duo of freshman Megan Heuser and sophomore Kate Duong achieved a 6-1 victory, and the duo of juniors Josie Frazier and Ashley Yeah won by a 6-3 scoreline to give the Illini an early 1-0 lead. The team of junior Emily Casati and freshman Kida Ferrari were down 5-4 and did not finish the match.

In singles play, the Illini sealed the deal thanks to wins from Yeah (6-3, 6-1), Heuser (6-3, 6-2) and senior Shivani Ingle (6-2, 6-1). The match was called after Illinois added these three additional points to the board, leaving Duong (6-3, 3-6, 2-3), Frazier (6-1, 6-5) and Ferrari (4-6, 5-4) with unfinished results. Final score: Illinois 4, Missouri 0.

“We started off pretty well,” Duong said. “In past matches, we struggled a little bit with having strong starts and coming out from the beginning being loud and being aggressive, but I think today we had a mentality switch that benefited us really well.”

Both Duong and Heuser weren’t thrilled with the team’s doubles performance last week against Illinois State despite winning the doubles point. The Illini have had to work their way out of a deficit on more than one occasion in doubles, but this time around, they got off to a great start and didn’t slip up.

“We’ve always been catching up from behind,” Duong said. “So, I think putting that momentum forward and then going into singles gave us so much more confidence. That’s how we were able to be so successful today. We told ourselves that we can compete. We shouldn’t be scared of them at all. I think that made us have a better start, and we just weren’t afraid. We went for our shots and were able to capitalize on opportunities better.”

The Illini have continued to have steady dominance at home. They’ve outscored opponents now by an incredible combined 29-0 score. Losing at Atkins doesn’t appear to be a possibility for the team at the moment, and Mizzou is just the latest to be added to a list of victims that have suffered defeat coming into Urbana.

“We’re comfortable on our courts,” Clark said. “It’s just great playing at home. We’re out here every day, so of course we have the home-court advantage. The girls are super comfortable with the crowd, and everything kind of falls into place at home. Now our trick is to figure out how we win on the road or at neutral sites, but we’re very fortunate to be at Atkins the whole month of February.”

The Braggin’ Rights stay with Illinois (6-3), as it extended its all-time record against Missouri (2-3) to 3-0 with Sunday’s sweep. The team will get next week off before returning to action against Cornell on Feb. 27, when they will look to secure their sixth straight victory at home. 

“I think collectively as a team sometimes we go in and out of focus,” Duong said. “Obviously we won 4-0 today, but in some matches we let them come back a little bit more. Credit to (Mizzou), they stepped up, but I think if we continue to push and continue to press more and more and keep that focus longer, then that’s how we’ll be able to beat them easier and take on tougher teams.”

 

@james_kim15

[email protected]