Illinois women’s tennis kicks off ITA season with clash against No. 3 NC State

By James Barrowman, Staff Writer

Hot off a 4-3 win against Kentucky last Sunday, the Illinois women’s tennis roster is set to face a colossal opponent in No. 3 NC State on the first day of the ITA Kick-off Weekend on Saturday morning. The next day the team will either face Vanderbilt or Furman, depending on the results.

The first focus for the team will be facing off against the dominant NC State on Saturday morning. Adding on top of NC State’s skill, it will also be the first meeting between the two teams, which may add an additional challenge for Illinois as the familiarity of an opponent such as Vanderbilt won’t be there. Head coach Evan Clark didn’t seem worried about NC State’s reputation, though. Instead, he seemed to relish the opportunity to face the Wolfpack, especially this early in the season.

“NC State is No. 3 in the country. I think they’re one of the best teams in the country. They’ll be competing for a national title this year,” Clark said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity for our team. Obviously they’re at home, it’s a top-five team in the country, they’ve got a lot of things going for them. We’re going to go in and give it our best shot, and we think we can compete with anyone. (But) we’re excited about the opportunity.” 

Illinois is still hot off the win against Kentucky last weekend, where the team was able to win the tough battle against the Wildcats, making the Illini’s record for this year 1-0 so far. Because of this win and how early it is in the year, Illinois shouldn’t have any worries that would impact its game, and against an opponent such as NC State, the Illini will take any advantage they can get. It also helps that it’s early in the season, as there’s none of the mental weight that can affect players later in the season, a fact Clark was well aware of.

“(It’s) early in the year (and) we’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, so I expect our girls to play free and really go after it,” Clark said.

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    All eight rostered players will be attending the ITA Weekend Kickoff and the team will be looking for a strong performance from the doubles pairs in order to go into the singles matches with the advantage. Last time out, it was the Illini who took the doubles point off the Wildcats, with sophomore Kida Ferrari and senior Ashley Yeah earning a 6-3 win while junior Kate Duong and sophomore Megan Heuser picked up a 7-5 win to clinch.

    The matches against NC State are only one half of the weekend, and Illinois will have to focus on whoever they face on Sunday as well. The Illini have struggled against the Commodores, only winning once in the all-time series to obtain a record of 1-4. Their matches against Furman, however, have gone more in favor of Illinois for an all-time series record of 2-0. Time will tell which opponent will face the Illini on Sunday, as it depends on who wins the matches being played Saturday. 

    If Illinois faces Vanderbilt they’ll most likely be hungry to add another win to the all-time series record, and if they face Furman they’ll be able to approach the game with confidence, regardless of what happens on Saturday morning. 

    As Clark said, the ITA Weekend Kick-off Weekend will be a great opportunity for Illinois despite the challenge they’ll have on Saturday, but if the Illini are able to walk away with a win against NC State, it’s not impossible to imagine the confidence gained from the match will carry over into Sunday and into the next round. 


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