Women’s tennis looks to use home-court advantage to defeat higher-ranked team

Once a sure starter at the No. 5 singles spot last season for the Illinois women’s tennis team, sophomore Amy Allin has found herself in and out of the lineup this season.

The additions of two blue-chip recruits — Rachael White, who is ranked No. 33 nationally in singles, and Breanne Smutko — have strengthened the team’s lineup and pushed Allin down in the order, but the Dallas native knows she can still help out.

“Just anything I can do, whether it’s from the sideline or from the courts,” Allin said of her role on the team. “Just doing anything that I can do to help and being ready when it is time to play.”

And with one of the team’s top singles players, junior Leigh Finnegan, questionable for Friday’s home opener against No. 21 Florida State with a hip flexor injury, Allin is aware she has to stay on top of her game.

“I just want to work on my game, my offense, just being able to do more on the court and be ready to lay when the time comes (and) playing under pressure,” said Allin after having an individual session with head coach Michelle Dasso prior to Tuesday’s team practice.

In Illinois’ first four matches, Dasso inserted Allin into the singles lineup whenever Finnegan was out. And although Friday’s lineup is still a guessing game for everyone but Dasso, the head coach believes her team has the necessary depth.

“Despite our record at 1-3, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in this team,” Dasso said. “If they look at our win-loss record, they might not think it’s the greatest. Well, I’ll tell you what, this is the best team I’ve ever coached. And I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people still.”

The No. 32 Illini are looking to build off the home crowd’s energy after returning from a grueling 1-3 road trip. Illinois has struggled against higher-ranked teams so far, and Florida State boasts four singles players who are ranked at Nos. 23, 34, 62 and 115.

“I think that’s going to be a huge advantage playing Florida State,” Dasso said of being at home. “I feel like we have one of the most supportive fan bases in the country, so I love our chances there.”

The Illini will follow Friday’s match with a doubleheader Sunday at home against unranked Marquette (4-1) and Western Illinois (0-2).

Yet the key component for Illinois to grab a win this weekend doesn’t change.

“Definitely the doubles point,” Finnegan said. “We’ve been focusing a lot on that, and this past weekend we were able to grab that in both matches (against Mississippi and Texas A&M;), and I think it will be key because (Florida State) is pretty strong in their singles lineup.”