Kate Duong becomes sole Illini to earn All-Big Ten honors following strong sophomore season

Sophomore+Kate+Duong+leaps+in+the+air+to+return+the+ball+during+her+doubles+match+with+teammate%2C+freshman+Megan+Hesuer%2C+against+Missouri+on+Feb.+13.+Big+Ten+announced+that+Duong+is+to+be+part+of+the+All-Big+Ten+team+on+Thursday.+

Sidney Malone

Sophomore Kate Duong leaps in the air to return the ball during her doubles match with teammate, freshman Megan Hesuer, against Missouri on Feb. 13. Big Ten announced that Duong is to be part of the All-Big Ten team on Thursday.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

With the regular season done and dusted, the Big Ten released the All-Big Ten team for women’s tennis on Thursday. Illinois women’s tennis saw its Court 1 doubles and singles competitor, sophomore Kate Duong, named to the team.

Duong was one of 14 total players across the conference who received the honors and was the lone Illini to make the list. The only other Illinois player to earn All-Conference recognition was junior Josie Frazier, who was the Illini’s Sportsmanship Award honoree in the Big Ten.

In what was Duong’s first All-Big Ten recognition, she also became the first Illini to win first-team all-conference accolades since Asuka Kawai and Mia Rabinowitz in the 2019/20 season. However, in a season that’s seen Duong take on an increased leadership role for Illinois, the sophomore has remained humble and focused on the collective triumphs of the team over her own individual achievements.

“I think it’s a great honor to receive this award,” Duong said. “But honestly I don’t play to receive awards. I just want to take care of my spot on the court. If I receive an award later then that’s great to have but that’s not the reason why I try to win my matches on the court. I try to do that for my team and get the team wins.”

In Big Ten play this season, Duong went 6-4 defending Illinois’ top singles court and 6-3 while partnered with freshman Megan Heuser on Illinois’ top doubles court. A highlight of the season for Duong and Illinois was the memorable 4-3 victory over Northwestern on April 17. Duong played a crucial role in the comeback, defeating ranked No. 110 Clarissa Hand in singles play. Duong was named Big Ten Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week following her performance against the Wildcats.

Despite top performances in the Big Ten, earning All-Big Ten honors was not something Duong had expected or put much thought into.

“I really don’t think about (earning individual awards),” Duong said. “But I knew I put in a good performance for my standards this season. Yes, I could have been a little bit better but I think overall I was pretty successful at the number one spot. I just don’t think about that award too much but it’s definitely something nice to have.”

After garnering conference recognition over the course of the season as well as being named the Illinois women’s tennis Most Valuable Player, Duong continues to leave her mark on the program after only her second year.

Illinois finished this season 16-9 overall and 8-3 in the conference. In spite of posting winning records and earning individual awards, however, Duong was still hoping for more out of a season that saw the Illini miss out on the NCAA Championships.

“I think this season went pretty well,” said Duong. “It was definitely an improvement from last season. We got off to a better start but still it wasn’t good enough. All we wanted to do was make the postseason and the NCAA Championships but that didn’t happen this year.”

With its younger team, Illinois is shaping up to be quite a force for the 2022/23 season. Duong will be entering her junior year and will undoubtedly be in contention to earn All-Big Ten honors once again if she continues how she ended the season. Most importantly for her, though, will be the chance to make a deeper run in the postseason. With how the team is looking, Illinois appear set for increased future success.

“I think next season’s going to be a really good one for us,” said Duong. “All three of our freshmen will have a whole year under them so they’ll have that confidence going into next season. I think everyone is gonna take what they learned from this season and bring that into next season. I think it’ll be a good stepping stone for us.”

 

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