Weekend sweep puts Illini women’s tennis in second-place tie in the Big Ten

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Amy Allin plays singles against Kristy Filling of Notre Dame on Wednesday, April 7. She lost the match two sets to one.

By Rosalind Dumlao

It’s only fitting that a weekend sweep for the No. 36 Illinois women’s tennis team would set up a showdown with No. 20 Michigan next weekend for second place in the Big Ten.

The Illini’s current second-place tie with the Wolverines marks the highest conference seating for the Illini since head coach Michelle Dasso took over three seasons ago.

Illinois (16-5, 7-1) finished its final road swing of the regular season on a high note, as they took a nail-biting, 5-2 win at No. 43 Ohio State on Friday and then swept Penn State, 7-0, on Sunday.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend,” Dasso said. “We gained so much confidence beating Ohio State. It was such an important match, such a battle. There was so much drama, so much excitement, one of the best college matches I’ve been a part of. Then to follow up with dominating Penn State topped off a perfect weekend.”

The Buckeyes (12-8, 5-2) welcomed the Illini with a rowdy crowd on their home courts in hopes of notching a win that would move them into a tie for second place with Michigan in the conference.

After losing the early doubles point and then suffering a quick singles loss on court four, the Illini found themselves in must-win situations at five of the remaining singles spots, four of which went into third sets.

Freshman Chelcie Abajian got Illinois on the board with a straight-set win against the Buckeye’s Cami Hubbs. But the difficult part for Abajian was having to cheer the rest of her team on, especially since the unfamiliar setup of Ohio State’s courts prevented her from seeing the performance of two other teammates.

“I’m not going to lie, it was very nerve wracking,” Abajian said. “I spent a lot of time watching Leigh (Finnegan) … I had to constantly look at the scoreboard.

“But I had a lot of confidence in the team, and I knew that we were going to pull it out,” Abajian added.

Junior Megan Fudge, ranked No. 108 nationally, tied the match at 2-2 after bouncing back from a first-set loss to dominate the third set, 6-0, over Kristen Flower. Freshman Amy Allin gave the Illini their first lead after taking a tight 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) match over Angela DiPastina.

Allin’s win set up No. 111 Finnegan for a 6-3 third-set win that sealed Illinois’ victory and completed its comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

Dasso said the win was a “complete, 100-percent team effort” and it told her more about her players.

“It wasn’t looking pretty at first, but one thing that I learned is that this team keeps telling me that they’re never out of it, that I can never give up on them, and I didn’t,” Dasso said. “The girls didn’t give up on each other, and they never throw in the towel.”

Sunday’s road stop at Penn State (5-15, 2-6) was a no contest for the Orange and Blue as they dominated the struggling Nittany Lions by sweeping the doubles point and taking straight-set wins in all six singles matches.

But next weekend’s final two regular-season dual matches will be a test for the Illini as they prepare for Michigan and Michigan State.

“This (coming) weekend is one of our biggest weekends of the season,” Fudge said. “We couldn’t be in a better position right now. We could only stay confident, and we’re going to work hard this week.”