Fall season prepares Illini women’s tennis for heavy spring schedule

The Illinois women’s tennis team is currently in Act 1 of its annual two-act performance. After the summer, the Illini compete in both a fall and spring season. During the fall season, each member of the team will compete in approximately three individual tournaments to help prepare themselves for Act 2: the spring season. Although not quite as intense as the spring season, Illini head coach Michelle Dasso said the fall does come with several benefits.

“It’s getting to know your team chemistry,” Dasso said. “Trying to solidify or at least experiment with some potential doubles teams. Individual growth, and trying to get as many matches as you can.”

There are five total tournaments on the Illini’s fall schedule, and the team has already competed in three. With each player allowed 25 total competition dates per year, about 21 of those are saved for the spring season of dual matches and Big Ten play. One date will be used for a trip to Hawaii this winter, leaving three dates for entry into fall tournaments for each member of the team. These fall tournaments serve as a tune-up for the spring season.

Seniors Allison Falkin and Misia Kedzierski and junior Julia Jamieson have gone through fall seasons multiple times. They have experienced the ins and outs of each year and have clear expectations for what each fall brings.

“Fall is really about getting your game perfect, just getting it cleaned up and ready for spring season because it comes really fast,” Jamieson said. “Basically the fall tournaments are just opportunities to practice those new things to perfect them for the spring season.”

While the fall tournaments can provide a measuring stick for success against high-quality opponents, it also provides the opportunity to get in shape.

“We work on getting back into shape and then adding a little more dimension to our games,” Kedzierski said. “The fall is a lot of morning workouts at the track, at the (football) stadium, any opportunity we get, we try and get an extra workout in.”

Falkin, Kedzierski and Jamieson agree the fall conditioning schedule is more rigorous than in spring, which makes for more physically demanding practices. With a heavier schedule in the spring, making time for conditioning in the fall is a must.

“We want to do a lot of conditioning early on so come spring we stay healthy,” Dasso said. “Come springtime, there is not a lot of free time.”

The differences in fall and spring seasons extend beyond scheduling. Fall tournaments consist of only individual tournaments, split into singles and doubles brackets. The spring season contains dual matches, where the Illini compete as a team against other schools. The spring includes the Big Ten season, the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Championships.

“I look at it almost as two separate seasons: individual and team,” Dasso said. “The team portion is what college tennis is all about. I can’t wait until dual matches, I love it.”

Fall provides the Illini with the opportunity to get a preview of the competition they will face in dual matches come spring. It also gives the players a chance to boost their individual resumes.

“It’s important to get practice matches in, and we get a little bit of a view of the Big Ten teams,” Falkin said. “And you try to get a ranking for yourself.”

A high individual ranking improves a player’s chances of receiving a bid to the NCAA Championships in May. However, the fall season has no impact on team rankings, according to Dasso.

The Illini host the Midwest Blast, a fall favorite among players, starting Nov. 1 before wrapping up the fall season with the Harvard Invitational. The team will then revert back to an out-of-season schedule, where they will practice and condition until winter break. The spring season kicks into gear in mid-January, and that’s where the fall’s work and preparation hopefully pays off.

Tennis is among a handful of Illini sports that have no real offseason. At this point in their tennis careers, the players are accustomed to handling a year-round schedule.

“I’m used to it. I’ve been playing year-round since freshman year of high school,” Jamieson said.

Any jealousy of other sports and their offseasons is eradicated by the benefits of playing full time.

“Sometimes I do definitely envy people that have that off time, but it gives us a little bit of an advantage being an athlete because we know what it’s like to stay mentally strong all year-round,” Kedzierski said. “Since we never have a break, we never get so out of shape and we can get back into it quickly.”

The fall is certainly important for rankings, experience and preparation. It is a grind, where tournaments and off-days offer a reprieve from early-morning conditioning and workouts. But the Illini’s main objectives lie ahead, and Jamieson sums it up best.

“Spring is the ultimate goal.”

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