Women’s tennis splits weekend matches, improves doubles play

Senior Megan Fudge gave a sigh of relief as the Illinois women’s tennis team tallied its first win of the season to conclude its four-match road trip.

“Finally,” said Fudge, who couldn’t wait to return to Urbana for the Illini’s home opener this Friday. “I can’t be any more excited. It’s the best feeling ever.”

The No. 32 Illini (1-3) avoided an 0-4 start to the season with Sunday’s 4-2 victory over No. 37 Texas A&M; at Clemson, S.C.

Prior to Sunday’s match — the final round of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend — Illinois dropped three matches to higher-ranked teams, including a 4-2 loss against No. 20 Mississippi on Saturday. The loss knocked the Illini out of contention for a bid to the ITA National Indoor Championships in Madison, Wis., and set up the consolation match against Texas A&M;, which fell to host No. 11 Clemson.

“It came down to character, and it came down to people wanting it, and honestly it’s been tough out there,” Fudge said. “It was a tough loss (on Saturday), and coming out (Sunday) morning at 9 a.m. and playing again and putting it out on the line again, we showed our determination. That’s what it came down to. We showed that we really wanted it.”

Fudge went 1-1 over the weekend at No. 2 singles. After grabbing the doubles point against the Aggies, Fudge and freshman Rachael White, who played at No. 1 singles spot, each dropped their matches in two sets, putting Illinois behind 2-1. But the Illini responded with three wins from freshman Breanne Smutko, sophomore Chelcie Abajian and junior Marisa Lambropoulos at the Nos. 4, 3 and 5 spots, respectively, in straight sets.

“Michelle told us to lay it on the line today, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Abajian, who defeated No. 117 Nazari Urbina. “I basically trusted myself, trusted my ground strokes, trusted my volleys and serves and just went after it today, and it really paid off.”

After losing the doubles points in back-to-back 4-3 losses last weekend, the Illini spent a week of practice dedicated to improving their doubles play. It showed, as they finished the weekend 4-2 in doubles matches. The Orange and Blue won the doubles point against Mississippi, which boasts the No. 7 ranked duo, and Texas A&M;, which occupies the No. 23, 27 and 36 duos in the rankings.

Though the Illini weren’t victorious overall against Mississippi, even after winning the doubles point, head coach Michelle Dasso feels that going 2-0 in doubles points is a step in the right direction for her team as it prepares to take on No. 25 Florida State on Friday.

“We’re on a roll,” Dasso said. “It’s so big, so huge, to win the doubles point, so the girls just have been taking care of business out there.”