Illini women’s tennis eyes Big Ten lead

A battle against a top-20 team for a share of the Big Ten lead is the challenge that faces the Illinois women’s tennis team this weekend.

No. 19 Illinois (12-5, 4-1 Big Ten) hits the road this weekend to face conference leader Michigan on Saturday and Michigan State on Sunday. The Illini have won six in a row — four of them conference wins — in a run that has propelled them to the national rankings. The No. 19 ranking is the fourth highest in school history; the highest was in 2004 when Illinois was ranked No. 16.

“We’re not going to change one thing,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “We’re trying to keep things as consistent as we’ve been over this last month or so.”

The No. 15 Wolverines (12-5, 5-0) have also been hot, winning five straight matches. They have been a juggernaut in the Big Ten over the past three years, as they haven’t lost a conference match since March 29, 2009, when they dropped a 6-1 decision to Northwestern. The three-year streak spans 30 matches, and Michigan head coach Ronni Bernstein is 43-2 in her career in conference clashes. Both losses came against Northwestern.

“I don’t think so,” said freshman Melissa Kopinski when asked if there was any added pressure playing Michigan. “We’ve had a great run in the Big Ten this year. We’ll treat it like any other match and go execute our game plan and see how that goes.”

Kopinski is undefeated in her last six singles matches, has an 11-2 mark in dual matches this year and is currently No. 125 in the singles rankings. Redshirt senior Marisa Lambropoulos has won six singles matches in a row for the Illini.

Michigan has a talented freshman of its own in Emina Bektas, who is ranked No. 10 in the singles rankings and holds a 13-3 record in dual matches. She also has been named Big Ten Conference Athlete of the Week four times this year. Bektas is 13-3 in doubles matches this year, and has been ranked as high as seventh in the nation.

Michigan State (8-8, 0-5) has no seniors on its roster and is in the cellar of the conference, having lost four in a row and seven of its past nine overall. The Spartans, however, do boast an 8-4 record at home this year.

If Illinois wins, there is the potential for a four-way tie at the top of the Big Ten standings, with Northwestern and Nebraska both holding 4-1 records in conference.

“I don’t really care what’s going on with any other team in the Big Ten other than the University of Illinois,” Dasso said.