Illinois women’s tennis: Fall season in review

The 2013 fall season has come to an end for the Illinois women’s tennis team, and head coach Michelle Dasso is excited about the direction of the program as it heads toward spring.

“I think we have a motivated team that’s working hard and getting along well,” Dasso said. “The chemistry is there and the work ethic is there, and I’m excited about our growth for the future.”

The team sent individuals to six different tournaments that spanned the length of the country, highlighted by appearances in Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Michigan. All nine members of the squad got to compete, with three tournaments being the maximum for each individual player. Junior Melissa Kopinski and senior Allison Falkin were invited to the ITA/Riviera All-American Championships, a high-profile tournament that began the fall season by inviting the nation’s top players to California to compete. 

Although the fall season is comprised of individual tournaments, Dasso looked for signs that her players were coming together as a team as the fall moved along. She noticed that this team has a drive that she hadn’t seen from her previous teams.

“In my eight years being here, this is the most motivated team I’ve seen as for each player,” Dasso said. “Everyone’s on board and wants to be the best as they can possibly be, which is exciting as a coach.”

As the team moves into its mini-offseason, Dasso is counting on her players to maintain their motivation during a “down” period, where practice time is cut down due to NCAA rules. Players must continue to work hard and improve on their own before the season resumes in January, Dasso said. If they don’t, it will be obvious.

“It’s easy to see as a coach who’s been staying in shape, playing and who’s been putting the extra effort in,” Dasso said. “Once you’re away from school a little bit and on your own you’re really going to see how much this team wants it and how hungry they are.”

Room for improvement

Although Dasso was pleased with the fall season overall, there is still room for improvement. Kopinski wasn’t satisfied with her performances in California and at regionals in Michigan, feeling that she’d let opportunities slip away.

“I wish I could have had a better run (in both),” Kopinksi said. “I just didn’t show up.”

Falkin agreed that the fall could have gone better. She was doubles partners with Kopinski for their first two tournaments, but Dasso eventually switched the pairings after they made early-round exits. While Falkin was disappointed with some of her performances, she now knows what to work on over the winter break.

“I think it could have been better,” Falkin said. “I’m excited for the spring, so hopefully that will be better. I think from playing matches you learn what you need to work on and then you use that for practice. We now know what we’re up against.”

Highlight of the fall

The team’s only home tournament of the fall, the Midwest Blast, was its most successful one. The Illini racked up more total wins than Purdue, Missouri and Wake Forest, good for the best overall record at the tournament. Every player in the tournament contributed to the team’s 19-9 overall record, tallying at least one win each. Dasso was impressed with her team’s heart and hustle during the Blast, citing multiple “gutsy” performances from Kopinski and junior Emily Barretta. The team’s three freshmen, Louise Kwong, Jerricka Boone and Alexis Casati, also stood out as contributors. This came as no surprise, as the freshmen impressed throughout the fall season.

“The freshmen got into the groove pretty well,” Kopinski said. “All of them were very nervous about coming into collegiate play. They all showed up when they had to and they’re all used to what’s going on.”

Team MVP

Kopinski emerged as a leader of the team as the fall went along. The reigning NCAA All-American put an exclamation point on her fall season with a 5-1 record at the Midwest Blast while playing through the flu.

“Melissa impressed me with her leadership,” Dasso said. “She’s gotten more vocal on the court and has a little more swagger in her. I think she’s really grown into someone that’s going to be that backbone of the team.”

Most Improved

Of the three freshmen, Casati was the most impressive, finishing with an 8-2 singles record. She also cemented herself as a reliable doubles partner for Kopinski heading into the spring. Dasso called her the team’s most consistent player throughout the fall and said she improved since arriving on campus.

“Alexis had a great fall,” Dasso said. “Recruiting her, I knew she was a very talented player that had a lot of strengths, but I think she put the most work in over the summer prior to getting here.”

What’s next

The Illini will be off until Jan. 16 when they travel to Hawaii for the beginning of the spring season. The Big Ten schedule begins March 8. The Illini tied for fifth in the Big Ten last year with a 6-5 conference record. 

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