Illini’s tough season ended by cancelations
March 19, 2020
The remainder of the Illinois women’s tennis season has been canceled due to concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19. There were 11 scheduled matches the Illini will not have a chance to compete in.
The Illini had a 5-9 record this season, struggling to compete against top tier teams. The team had a 0-6 record against top-20 ranked teams. This was uncharacteristic of the Illini, who had won three matches against top-20 ranked teams last season. According to head coach Evan Clark, the team had one of the toughest schedules in the nation this season.
The Illini did, however, end the season on a high note by winning their final match against Purdue, their first conference opponent of the season. Unfortunately, the Illini will end the season having faced only one conference opponent all season. All of their final 11 matches were scheduled to be against Big Ten opponents.
On a positive note for Illinois, there will be a lot of continuity between this and next year’s roster. The team has three freshmen, who will now be significantly more experienced heading into next year. Ultimately, with a largely inexperienced roster, it was never going to be very easy for the Illini to be able to repeat the same high level of success they had experienced in recent years.
Clark emphasized throughout the season that facing such a large volume of ranked teams would help them in the long run, but might lead to a less than desirable record in the short term. The Illini will get a chance to use their experience next season.
Along with the additional experience the rosters soon-to-be sophomores now have under their belts, the upper-end talent on the roster remains for next year as well. Junior Asuka Kawai was a bright spot for the Illini this season, having earned a 4-2 record in singles play. Kawai was the only player for Illinois to go above .500 in singles play. Kawai earned All-American Honors in the 2018-2019 season and will remain on the roster next year. She will be incredibly valuable for the Illini next season due to both her immense talent as well as her experience she can share with underclassmen.
The Illini had only one senior who will not be returning next year, Madeleine Gandawidjaja. Gandawidjaja has not participated in any matches since the fall season.
Clark surpassed 100 career coaching wins this season, a very significant career milestone as this was Clark’s fourth season as head coach. Clark had earned back-to-back ITA Midwest Regional Coach of the Year awards in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons. In combination with his accolades in past years and his 100-win milestone this season, Clark has established himself as a top coach in his short time so far at Illinois.
With all of the program’s success in recent years, Clark and the remaining roster will look to prove the 2019-2020 season to be a fluke rather than a trend going forward. It’s unfortunate that the Illini won’t get to finish out what had been a rocky spring season, but all signs are pointing the right direction as they head into the next season.