Illini women’s tennis head coach Dasso leads team against alma mater

Illinois+Marisa+Lambropoulos+follows+through+with+a+swing+during+a+doubles+set+against+Minnesota+at+the+Khan+Oudoor+Tennnis+Complex+in+Urbana+on+Saturday%2C+April+4%2C+2009.+The+Illini+beat+Minnesota+7-0.%0A

Illinois’ Marisa Lambropoulos follows through with a swing during a doubles set against Minnesota at the Khan Oudoor Tennnis Complex in Urbana on Saturday, April 4, 2009. The Illini beat Minnesota 7-0.

By Rosalind Dumlao

Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso knew this day would come.

As the No. 40 Illini women’s tennis team (14-4, 5-1) focuses on upsetting No. 3 Notre Dame in a Tuesday afternoon matchup at the Atkins Tennis Center, Dasso finds herself in an unfamiliar position. She will be coaching against her former team and her former coach Jay Louderback.

Although Dasso made a lasting name for herself during her tennis career at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish alumna refrained from nostalgia and remained focused on the upcoming challenge, stressing that her Illini have a lot to gain.

“It’s always nice to play your alma mater,” Dasso said. “We’re playing another one of the top teams in the country, and we have nothing to lose, really.

“It’s always a little special for me, but I know that my girls will be ready … hopefully we can use this as a huge confidence gain, and it gets tougher from here on out.”

Dasso’s accomplishments with the Fighting Irish — a perennial NCAA power — are stunning and are what could make an upset win against the Irish even sweeter for her and the Illini.

Dasso graduated from Notre Dame in 2001 as one of the top women’s tennis players in the program’s history, leading her team to two conference titles and also two round of 16 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. She is first in the Irish record books in career singles victories, career doubles victories, single-season singles victories and combined single-season victories.

The program’s only four-time All-American, Dasso was ranked as high as No. 2 nationally in singles and No. 5 in doubles, which were the highest rankings in the team’s history when she graduated. In 2001, Dasso became the first Irish to reach the semifinals in the NCAA Singles Championship.

Starting in 2003, Dasso served as an assistant coach for the Irish before she was hired as the Illinois women’s tennis head coach in 2006.

While it may seem ironic for Dasso to lead the Illini against a team she spent most of her tennis career helping out, her players are using it as motivation to defeat their first top-10 team of the season.

“It makes us want to beat them even more,” said sophomore Marisa Lambropoulos, who grabbed the lone Illini singles victory against the Irish last season. “It’d be cool to beat them. They’re number three in the country, so it’s a great opportunity.

“It’ll be fun. We only had one weak match last year, and it was against them at Notre Dame. We lost 6-1, so it’s only really up from there.”

The Irish (19-4) hold an all-time record of 19-9 against Illinois and currently boast two ranked singles players — No. 35 Kelcy Tefft and No. 36 Kristy Frilling, and the No. 3 and No. 7-ranked doubles duos. Tuesday’s match will mark the end of Notre Dame’s four-match road swing, which included a 4-3 loss at No. 1 Northwestern. Although the Irish are fresh off a 7-0 sweep of Marquette, the Illini are looking to steal their gold in the form of an upset victory.

“(Dasso) always has a little place in her heart for them, and we know that, sophomore Annie McCarthy said.

“But we know that she loves us as a team, and she’s really happy here. We’re just going to go out there to prove to ourselves and her that we’ve been working just as hard as they have and show them that we’re just as ready as they are.”