Despite major loss to Florida State, freshman aids women’s tennis in back-to-back wins

Freshman Rachael White introduced herself to Illinois women’s tennis fans as a blonde in Friday’s home opener. Just two days later, she sported a new look that confused some spectators.

“She was thinking about it and was like, ‘I think I want to go brown,’” senior Kristina Minor said. “(Sunday) morning she shows up with really brown hair. I don’t think she’s a really big fan, but we like it. We think it looks good, but she might be blonde by tomorrow.”

White was 0-5 at No. 1 singles prior to her new look, and though she said that her decision for the change had nothing to do with a desire to change her game, she did record her first singles wins on Sunday.

White, who is ranked No. 33 nationally, cruised through both her single matches in Sunday’s doubleheader against Marquette and Western Illinois, as the No. 32 Illini won 6-1 and 7-0, respectively, to improve to 3-4 on the season.

Though Sunday’s win was a no-contest against the two unranked opponents, it may have been the necessary turning point that Illinois has been hoping for after dropping its third 4-3 match against a higher ranked team on Friday against No. 21 Florida State.

“I told the girls that they should walk out of the locker rooms with their heads held high,” head coach Michelle Dasso said after Friday’s home opener. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t fallen our way quite yet. But I’ll tell you what, we’re going to get over that little hump at some point.”

Against the Seminoles, the tandem of junior Marisa Lambropoulos and sophomore Chelcie Abajian cruised at the No. 2 doubles spot with an 8-3 victory over Federica Suess and Katie Rybakova. White and junior Leigh Finnegan rallied back from a 5-2 deficit on court one, while the duo of senior Megan Fudge and freshman Breanne Smutko also battled after being down 6-3 at the No. 3 doubles spot. But the Seminoles edged the Illini 9-7 on both courts to take the doubles point.

The deciding match dwindled down to White at the No. 1 singles spot, but White couldn’t rally back in the third set, as she lost to No. 23 Lauren McCreless, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.

“We’re playing the top teams in the country, and that’s only going to prepare us more for our conference schedule,” Dasso said after the loss. “So yeah, I shouldn’t say it sucks, but it’s disappointing to lose. It is. And it hurts. But there’s so many positive things about this team.”

Illinois returned to the Atkins Tennis Center in an early Sunday morning match, in which the Illini took five singles matches in straight sets, to top Marquette.

Illinois then sent Western Illinois quickly packing in the second match of the day, sweeping the doubles point. The Leathernecks never scored more than three points on any of the singles courts, as the Illini cruised in straight sets again.

“Obviously I was a little upset after (Friday), but (Sunday) was a new day, and I just came out swinging and played my game, so I felt pretty good,” White said. “I just tried to play my game the whole time. (Friday) I won the first set, but I let up a little bit in the second set, so I really tried not to do that (Sunday).”

After Friday’s heartbreak loss, Dasso wanted her team to execute two goals on Sunday.

“One: be more active at the net and take some more chances, and No. 2 is to go out there and play with complete total confidence,” Dasso said. “Those (were) the two focuses of the day.”