Tennis sophomore improves to 6-2 for fall season

For most college students, spending the weekend in Las Vegas is recreation. For Illinois tennis player Rachael White, it was all business.

White, a sophomore, improved to 6-2 for the fall season after her 3-1 showing at this weekend’s UNLV Invitational, setting the pace for the four Illini who made the trip.

After finishing her freshman season just 14-19 while playing tough competition at the No. 1 and No. 2 singles levels, Illini head coach Michelle Dasso has seen White make major strides this offseason.

“I think it’s just a matter of growth,” Dasso said. “She has a year of experience under her belt and she’s gaining confidence. She’s playing her style, playing aggressive and serving really big. There’s just a different comfort level I’ve seen with her this year.”

White defeated Northern Arizona’s Orsi Golovics and Texas’ Caroline Larsson and Maggie Mello before falling to another Longhorn, No. 44 Krista Damico, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, in the Flight One Singles Quarterfinals.

“This is the second weekend in a row where she’s really played top-level tennis,” Dasso said. “Her one loss was some of the highest quality tennis I’ve seen in a long time.”

Freshman Misia Kedzierski made her Illinois debut over the weekend, finishing 1-1 in singles and combining with White to go 2-1 in doubles before an injured finger cut her tournament short.

Senior Annie McCarthy recovered from an early loss to win the Flight Two Backdraw Final, defeating Northern Arizona’s Aimee Oki in the finals.

While the women competed in Las Vegas, four members of the Illinois men’s tennis team traveled to St. Helena, Calif., to compete with many of America’s top junior and collegiate players at the Napa Valley Tennis Classic.

Illinois senior Dennis Nevolo dominated group play, defeating three consecutive opponents in straight sets over the course of the weekend.

But when he reached the eight-man tournament consisting solely of 10-point tiebreakers, chance was as big a factor as any.

“The problem is in a short tiebreaker like that you don’t have enough time for the cream to rise to the top,” said assistant coach Marcos Asse, who traveled with the team this weekend. “Tension was high on all the courts, and one shot here or one shot there can make a big difference in those tiebreakers.”

Nevolo came out of his pool with a clean record, having defeated USC’s J.T. Sundling, 6-4, 6-2, USTA junior amateur Mackenzie McDonald, 6-1, 6-2, and Kentucky’s Maks Gold, 6-1, 6-0.

He was able to scratch out a 12-10 victory in his first tiebreaker match against Florida sophomore Sekou Bangoura Jr., coming back from three match points in the process. Shortly after though, Nevolo’s run would end against preseason No. 8 Eric Quigley from Kentucky, who came out on top 10-5.

“It was great for him to even be in the tournament, and he gave it his best shot and just came up a little short,” Asse said.

Senior Abe Souza also started the weekend off 2-0, with wins against Kentucky’s Anthony Rossi and Cal’s Jonathan Dahan, before an abdominal strain forced him to default his final match to one of USTA’s top juniors, Mitchell Frank.

The other two Illini competitors who made the trip, senior Johnny Hamui and sophomore Bruno Abdelnour, both finished with 1-2 records in their groups. Hamui’s lone win came in his final match Sunday in three sets against California’s Christoffer Konigsfeldt, while Abdelnour was able to defeat USTA junior Hunter Harrington in straight sets on Saturday.