Women’s tennis falls to Notre Dame, 5-2

Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Notre Dame got head coach Michelle Dasso thinking twice about what’s not working for her squad.

But she’ll have to think fast, as the Illinois women’s tennis team opens its Big Ten season Friday against No. 1 Northwestern.

“We just got to find a better way to be ready to go and have better cannons. I don’t know, we need to re-evaluate things,” Dasso said. “We’re going to be doing some really tough practices and conditioning and with some consequences, so we’ll be doing a lot of everything.”

In its first road match since January, No. 31 Illinois fell to a 3-5 mark after losing 5-2 to No. 17 Notre Dame.

After dropping their fifth tight match to a higher-ranked opponent, the Illini began to feel their confidence level dropping.

“These are some matches that I truly feel that we could’ve taken, and we got to get tougher,” Dasso said. “We haven’t. We’ve fallen short and it’s disappointing … We’re not happy with just getting close to these top teams.”

The Irish (6-1) swept the doubles point, which has been a struggling area for the Illini.

Dasso was on her eighth doubles combination of the season when she paired junior Leigh Finnegan and sophomore Chelcie Abajian against the No. 8 nationally ranked duo of Kristy Frilling and Kali Krisik. But the Illini pair fell, 8-5.

Finnegan entered the singles lineup for the first time since Jan. 30, still recovering from a hip flexor injury.

Although playing down at the unfamiliar No. 6 court, Finnegan didn’t struggle much, as she evened the score 1-1 with a quick 6-1, 6-4 victory against Kristen Rafael.

“It feels great to get that win and get my confidence back up and another singles match under my belt,” Finnegan said.

But the Irish retaliated fast, taking the next four singles matches on courts 1, 5, 3 and 4, respectively, three of which took three sets.

A reoccurring challenge for Illinois playing away from home is the setup of its opponents’ courts.

While accustomed to having all six courts visible during a match at their home facility, the Illini encountered a setup where you can only see three courts at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.

“I didn’t know what was going on in the other side, but I knew on my side, we were all working hard; we just weren’t executing well enough,” senior Megan Fudge said, who played at the No. 2 singles spot.

Though the match was already decided before Fudge could even finish her third set, the Kaarst, Germany, native said she “just had more heart” than her opponent to grab the second point for the Illini.

“It was a very tough match for me,” Fudge said. “I didn’t think I’ve ever felt so tired after a match.

“(Shannon Mathews) doesn’t get very mad or anything. She gets very calm. It’s kind of very frustrating as an opponent because you kind of want to always wind up your opponent. But she didn’t let me.”