Women’s tennis faces No. 4 Notre Dame

 

 

By Amber Greviskes

Michelle Dasso left Notre Dame last summer, having spent most of her time there since enrolling in 1997. First, she was a standout player, earning four-time All-American honors. Later, she coached, assisting Jay Louderback, who thrust the Irish into the national spotlight over the course of his career. But, after nearly a decade in South Bend, Ind., Dasso was ready to begin the next phase of her career – and Illinois needed a coach.

Dasso took over Illinois’ struggling program on June 13, 2006, her sights set on unprecedented success. When the No. 4 Irish arrive to take on the Illini at Atkins Tennis Center at 6 p.m., Dasso will be forced to remember the team she left behind.

“I’m very excited and looking forward to it,” Dasso said. “I’ll have a special relationship with all of the players on the court (tonight).”

Among those unique Notre Dame athletes are senior twins Christian and Catrina Thompson, who Dasso coached to the doubles title at the 2005 Riviera/Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championships.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing them again,” said Dasso, who keeps in contact with her former team. “It will be weird coaching against them, but that’s how it goes. They’re great kids with a load of talent.”

Don’t expect Dasso to be too nostalgic tonight, though. Her first priority is making sure the Illini use the momentum they gained from their season-opening victory at Marquette to keep making improvements. She also has the daunting task of making sure the unranked-Illini don’t play skittishly against their highly touted opponents. As of Thursday night, she was successful.

“I’m feeling confident,” Illinois freshman Kristina Minor said. “Obviously, Notre Dame has their reputation, but we have to remember that it’s just a number before them. I have to focus on playing my game – respecting them, but not being afraid.”

Sophomore transfer Bryce Marable, who helped seal the Illini’s season-opening win against Marquette, will find herself in a situation not unlike Dasso’s on Sunday. That’s when Illinois faces No. 31 Tennessee where Marable began her career.

“I’m a little nervous because I’m playing my former teammates,” said Marable, who harbors no ill-will against the team. “It just wasn’t a good fit for me. It was a great school, it just didn’t work out.”

If Marable’s season-debut is any indication of what the Illini can expect in the future, the sophomore won’t disappoint. Marable and freshman Megan Fudge won the crucial doubles match that gave Illinois the doubles point, and, eventually, the victory.

“It was good for my confidence to be able to play well in that kind of pressure situation,” said Marable, who hadn’t played a competitive match since November 2005. “I’m still not match-tough yet, so I have to prepare a little more mentally and go a little easier on myself. I’m not playing how I was before and to expect that wouldn’t be realistic.”

By Sunday though, it is realistic that Dasso will be cheering for the Irish, who will wrap up their weekend with their home-opener against No. 12 Vanderbilt. The Irish will probably be cheering for the Illini’s success as well.

“I’m supporting the Irish any time that they play anyone except the Illini,” Dasso said. “It’s a great feeling to know that the Notre Dame coaches and athletes are supporting me, and I can’t say enough good things about them. I’ll always be following Notre Dame.”