Illini women’s tennis makes final Big Ten road stops

Locked in a race for second place in the Big Ten standings, the No. 36 Illinois women’s tennis team must overcome a pair of conference foes this weekend.

Taking on No. 43 Ohio State (12-7, 4-1 Big Ten) on Friday and Penn State (5-13, 2-3) on Sunday, the Illini (14-5, 5-1) are aware that the Buckeyes await their arrival.

“Ohio State is going to be gunning at us,” Illinois head coach Michelle Dasso said. “We beat them twice last year. They’re obviously going to have a huge crowd out there I’m sure, but the girls are looking forward to it.”

Last season, the Illini hung toward the bottom of the ITA rankings at No. 58 when they pulled a 5-2 upset against then-No. 31 Ohio State. The teams met again in the Big Ten quarterfinals, when Illinois pulled another shocker by knocking out the Buckeyes and advancing into the semifinals.

Illinois looks to rebound after Tuesday’s 6-1 loss to No. 3 Notre Dame. The Illini hope to use that match to their advantage this weekend.

“All across the board, everyone fought their heart out,” said freshman Chelcie Abajian about Tuesday’s match. “We’re actually pretty confident after this match because we realized, especially after the doubles match, that we were right there with a top team. We’re taking, this match with a lot of confidence and learning a lot from Notre Dame.”

Teaming up with redshirt sophomore Leigh Finnegan mostly at the No. 1 doubles spot, Abajian has made contributions for the Illini in an area which were problems for the team last season. The duo, 8-5 on the season, will most likely lead Illinois against the tandem of Angela DiPastina and Christina Keesey of Ohio State, who have ranked as high as No. 80 in doubles.

Also leading the Illini will be junior Megan Fudge, who is ranked No. 108. Following her dramatic singles victory against Notre Dame’s No. 35 Kelcy Trefft, Fudge stressed the team’s boost in morale heading into the weekend.

“We can only build confidence from Notre Dame,” Fudge said. “We’re not quite there yet, we’re not a top-five team yet, but we were right there. We played (No. 1) Northwestern and Notre Dame, and we did not feel like we were far behind. (We have) great confidence now in doubles and singles. We can beat anyone out there.”

Although the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions aren’t ranked as high as Notre Dame, Dasso knows her team can’t get ahead of themselves.

“We want to prove ourselves,” Dasso said.

“We’re prepared. We’re ready to go. It’s just a matter of getting that mind set into the Big Ten again.”