Illinois women’s tennis defends home courts, grinds out close victory over winless Cornell

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Sidney Malone

Junior Ashley Yeah prepares to receive the ball during her match against Missouri on Feb. 13. The Illini won against Cornell 4-2 with Yeah winning two of her three sets for singles.

By James Kim, Staff Writer

Illinois women’s tennis managed to avoid being upset Sunday as it defended its home courts against a determined Cornell side. The Illini showed their grit and managed to come out on top, 4-2, against the Big Red, the latter of whom came to Urbana in search of their first win of the season. Tough singles victories were the deciding factor for Illinois, as it kept alive what is now a six-match winning streak at home.

Coming into what was the first ever matchup between these two schools, the in-form Illini looked set to make quick work of the struggling Big Red. However, despite being 0-6, Cornell did well and managed to give Illinois arguably its toughest matchup at home so far. The Big Red became the first team this season to take points away from the Illini, and they exceeded expectations with their performance on Sunday.

“Credit to Cornell,” said Illinois head coach Evan Clark. “I thought they played really well. They’re a great team, and they gave us everything we could handle. Overall a great match for our team, and being put in that situation is going to pay off down the road.”

The Illini started off hot in doubles play, gaining the point after securing strong wins from the duos of freshman Megan Heuser and sophomore Kate Duong and juniors Josie Frazier and Ashley Yeah. The team of Heuser/Duong won, 6-2, and Frazier/Yeah shut out their opponents, 6-0. The duo of junior Emily Casati and freshman Kasia Treiber were up 4-2 when their match was called. Illinois 1, Cornell 0. 

The real drama began in singles play. Illinois initially gained a 2-0 lead thanks to a hard-fought win by Frazier. The junior swept the first set, 6-0, but she began to struggle in the second, finding herself down, 4-1. However, Frazier managed to avoid a third set as she won five sets unanswered to win the second set, 6-4. 

Duong (5-7, 4-6) and freshman Kida Ferrari (6-7 (3-7), 2-6) then suffered defeats to their opponents as Cornell leveled the score at 2-2 overall. Despite losing the first set, 6-4, Treiber won back-to-back sets, 6-2, 6-3, to put another point back on the board for Illini. Illinois 3, Cornell 2.

The tense final two matches saw Yeah and Heuser each battle out three sets in their matches, with the overall match on the line. Two wins here for the Big Red could have seen them earn a massive 4-3 win over the Illini. 

Yeah had other plans. After winning the first match by a solid 6-1 score, it came as a shock that she dropped the second, 6-2. With both fans and teammates alike in full support, Yeah went to work.

The grueling third set saw Yeah grind out an incredible 7-5 victory that would put the fourth, winning point on the board for Illinois, as it defeated Cornell to earn its seventh win of the season. Heuser fought hard but found herself down 6-7 (3-7), 6-1, 2-4 when her match was called following Yeah’s triumph. Final score: Illinois 4, Cornell 2. 

“The first set went really well for me,” Yeah said. “But in the second set, (Nguyen) started playing a lot better and it kind of flip-flopped. I didn’t really know what was going on during the third set, but at the end it was clear that everything was on the line. I just told myself to focus on each point instead of what the score was.” 

Yeah’s clutch singles win highlighted the resilience of this Illini team. Clark was impressed with the team’s effort and gave props to “Ashley being really tough to get the clinching point” in what was an exciting afternoon for Illinois women’s tennis. Support from Yeah’s teammates was through the roof for her and Heuser at the end, as they got loud and sparked the ILL-INI chants. 

While the Big Red will still be leaving Urbana with another loss, Cornell gave Illinois much tougher competition than many would have predicted. 

“We were definitely more confident coming into the match,” Yeah said. “Obviously a lot of the matches came down really close, but I think everybody stayed out there as long as they could and really put up a fight. That’s how we were able to get the win.”

Sunday saw the last of three home matches in a row for Illinois, as it now prepares to travel to face Kansas and No. 3 Oklahoma, both of whom are strong teams that will provide a tough test. The Illini are 1-3 playing away from home and will be looking to improve on their away form.

“Next week we have two really tough opponents,” Yeah said. “We’re definitely going to have to adjust to their home courts and also just be present in every single match. There’s nothing for us to lose really; we just have to go out there and play. I know we have the skills to stay with them.”

 

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