Pair of freshmen start strong for Illini women’s tennis

NCAA basketball is best known for being a sport with competitive freshmen, but a couple of the members of the Illinois women’s tennis team are contributing on the court in a way that is unusual in women’s tennis.

Through seven matches, freshmen Alexis Casati and Louise Kwong sport a combined singles record of 13-0 for the Illini. Casati has played in the second and third singles spots on the team, while Kwong has fit into the fourth, fifth or sixth positions, depending on the match.

“We both worked really hard during the offseason,” Casati said. “We had a lot of matches in the fall, and that really helped with the tournament play and the preparation.”

“I found it really hard in the fall, transition-wise,” Kwong said. “But I think from the fall to the season now, it’s been a lot better.”

Still, Kwong posted the best doubles record on the team in the fall, finishing at 7-3. This season, she has played doubles mostly with junior Julia Jamieson and senior Misia Kedzierski, and the Kwong and Kedzierski pairing picked up four straight doubles wins in the spring before dropping the last three matches.

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    Casati came onto the collegiate scene with a bang, picking up a win in the singles bracket of the West Point Invitational — her first tournament as an Illini. She ended the fall at 8-2 in singles and advanced to the round of 16 of October’s ITA Midwest Indoor Regionals. In high school, she was one of the top players in Illinois, as well as on the junior tennis circuit.

    “Obviously in juniors you have to travel a lot,” Casati said. “You have to just cope with everything, and traveling when we were younger helped us with traveling now.”

    Outside of Kwong and Casati, the Illini have struggled on the road this season, due both to injuries and illness. They have dropped all three of their away matches so far.

    Illinois’ third freshman, Jerricka Boone, trained with Casati before coming to Illinois, which has factored into the growth Casati has seen in herself since arriving in Champaign.

    “A few of the girls besides Jerricka are from Chicago, so I’ve known them from a while back and I think that has definitely helped,” Casati said.

    Doubles has also been a strong point for Casati, who has been paired with 2013 All-American Melissa Kopinski in the first doubles position in the lineup. The pairing has gone 5-2 so far this spring with an undefeated record at home. The pair also went 3-0 in competition during the fall season.

    When asked about her expectations prior to the season, Casati remarked: “I think I’ve definitely exceeded (expectations) a little bit. I didn’t think I’d be doing as well as I am right now, but I think moving forward I’d obviously like to keep it up.”

    “I actually set a goal try to win every match, so it’s good that I’m doing it so far,” Kwong said. “I’m a bit surprised — no, I’m very surprised actually.”

    Surprised or not, this pair has proved that when called upon, youth can contribute.

    Peter can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @pbaileywells22.