Dasso eager for sneak-peek at Big Ten competition

Michelle Dasso is looking forward to Thursday’s ITA Midwest Regionals at Michigan, and for good reasons.

“It’s definitely exciting for multiple reasons,” said Dasso, head coach of the Illinois women’s tennis team. “We’re playing people in (our) conference and in the region, getting a chance to look at the competition we’ll face throughout the year.”

Dasso will also get to see how freshmen Jerricka Boone and Louise Kwong fare in their first collegiate tournament.

“I’m certainly excited to see Jerricka and Louise in action and see how they pan out,” Dasso said.

Freshman Alexis Casati will also compete, following an impressive debut at the West Point Invitational at the end of September. She went 4-0 in singles matches and won her bracket, sparking the desire to keep up among her fellow freshmen as they compete for the first time.

“I’m not trying to top Alexis, but it would be really cool to keep the good status of the freshmen,” Kwong said.

Joining the three freshmen at regionals will be junior Melissa Kopinski and seniors Misia Kedzierski and Allison Falkin. They will get their first look of the season at players around the Big Ten, including Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan and Northwestern both boast ranked singles players, each of which will compete for a regional title.

“Any chance you get to get a peek at your competition that you’ll be facing in the spring, it kind of sets the bar,” Dasso said. “You see where you are, where you stack up, what strengths you have and improvements that need to be made.”

In the practices leading up to Thursday’s tournament, Dasso has put an emphasis on ball control, as well as working to make points last longer. To sustain such rallies, her players also have to be well conditioned.

“We have to run a lot,” Boone said. “I’ve been working on my forehand and just staying in the point longer.”

Perhaps the biggest concern facing Dasso is the state of the doubles play, citing the doubles performances in her team’s first two tournaments as “not where we want to be.” With three freshmen competing this weekend, she is forced to send two tandems (Boone/Casati, Kedzierski/Kwong) that have never played a collegiate match together. Kopinski and Falkin will also compete as a doubles pair after a somewhat disappointing performance at last week’s All-American Championships tournament in Southern California. Dasso attempted to offset the concerns by focusing on doubles in practice this week.

“That’s what the fall is about,” Dasso said. “Making sure that you’re trying different teams, giving them a little bit more time together to see if that’s the right fit, and if not making, the adjustments so come springtime, we’re ready to go.”

Although the doubles pair of Kopinski and Falkin was ranked No. 35 in the nation entering the season, Dasso said nothing was set in stone as far as pairing the two in future tournaments.

“We’re definitely not sticking with anything for certain,” Dasso said. “If it’s not the right fit, we’re not afraid to make changes.”

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and @aroux94.