Illini draw positives from Midwest Regionals showing

The Illini women’s tennis team had three members reach the round of 16 in singles at the ITA Midwest Regionals at Michigan this past weekend. Two Illini doubles tandems also reached the round of 16, narrowly missing the quarterfinals.

Head coach Michelle Dasso called the performance a “good showing” before adding that the team wasn’t satisfied and strives for more success going forward.

“It’s certainly nice having players in the last couple of rounds,” Dasso said. “But we want to have more of them, and there was a couple of matches we could have won.”

No. 102 Melissa Kopinski advanced the furthest of the six Illini participating in the tournament, reaching the quarterfinals in singles before falling to No. 59 Sarah Lee of Michigan. After Kopinski took the first set 6-2, Lee turned the tables by taking the second set by the same score. Lee won the deciding third set 6-4.

The reigning All-American Kopinski was encouraged by her performance but shared her coach’s sentiment that opportunities may have slipped away.

“It could have gone better, of course,” Kopinski said. ”It looks like all the stuff I’ve been working on in the summer has finally come into play. Just working on getting to the net, hitting a solid ball and trying to create opportunities; that went really well at this tournament.”

Dasso agreed and was impressed by Kopinski’s singles performance.

“Melissa had a good run,” Dasso said. “She’s looking stronger than ever. She worked very hard this summer, and I think it showed.”

Freshman Alexis Casati and senior Allison Falkin joined Kopinski in the round of 16 before losing. Casati’s 6-1, 6-3 loss to Veronica Corning of Northwestern was her first singles loss of the season, dropping her record to 6-1. Casati was one of three freshmen to compete at regionals alongside Louise Kwong and Jerricka Boone. It was the first collegiate tournament for Kwong and Boone.

“I was impressed with our three freshmen,” Dasso said. “They have a lot of room for growth.”

In doubles, the Illini had two of their three doubles teams reach the round of 16. Kopinski and Falkin, the No. 3 ranked doubles team in the tournament, defeated Michigan’s Kristen Dodge and Annie Wierda 8-4 following an opening round bye.

The pair then moved into the quarterfinals by topping Notre Dame’s Britney Sanders and Molly O’Koniewski, again by an 8-4 margin.

Their run came to an end in the quarterfinals at the hands of Northwestern’s Veronica Corning and Alicia Barnett.

Kwong played alongside senior Misia Kedzierski as the tandem made an appearance in the doubles round of 16, winning convincingly in two matches before being knocked off by Belinda Niu and Brooke Rischbieth of Northwestern.

“Misia and Louise had a great showing,” Dasso said. “(Misia) is night and day with her comfort level playing in doubles. When she was a freshman, she hated it. She’s turned into one of the most developed players we have on our squad.”

While Dasso was pleased with the overall experience her team gained in Michigan, she noted there is still room for improvement.

The Illini have more than a week to prepare for their next tournament, the first and only home tournament of the fall season, which begins Nov. 1 at the Atkins Tennis Center. Looking ahead, Dasso took away positives from the weekend that showed her team can compete with the top teams in the region, such as Northwestern, Michigan and Notre Dame.

“We’re right there,” Dasso said. “We’ve got six players that showed me that there’s little things that we can work on, that we are going to work on, and we’re knocking at the door.”

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