Illinois women’s tennis heads to Blue Gray Classic

By Thomas Donley

The Illinois women’s tennis team had its last scheduled match canceled due to snow, but the chances of that happening again this weekend are much slimmer as the Illini head to the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic in Montgomery, Ala., where the weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 60s and 70s.

The eight-team field at the Blue Gray Classic includes teams Illinois has not seen much, though unfamiliarity with the competition is not unnerving to the Illini.

“I definitely think it’s an advantage,” senior Misia Kedzierski said. “Because I think a lot of tennis players going into matches, playing people we know, we can psych ourselves out sometimes because we expect them to play one way, and then if they don’t, it kind of throws us off. A lot of us like going into matches not knowing what to expect, so we can kind of figure it out as it goes along.”

The tournament field also includes three teams ranked in the ITA’s top 25: No. 14 Alabama, No. 19 Auburn and No. 21 Texas Tech.

In the first round Friday morning, Illinois (4-3) will attempt to snap a two-match losing streak when it faces Alabama, which posts a 5-2 record and is fresh off a win at home against No. 13 Virginia.

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Alabama’s roster boasts three individuals ranked in the top 100, and the No. 20 doubles team of Erin Routliffe and Maya Jansen as well as reigning SEC Freshman of the Week Danielle Spielmann.

On Saturday, Illinois will face either Texas Tech or Yale. Texas Tech is off to its best start in school history at 8-1 while Yale is 3-2 this spring.

The Blue Gray Classic will be Illinois’ first action after heavy snow prevented Wake Forest from making the trip to Urbana last weekend. The downtime has allowed the Illini to prepare and to rest some injuries prior to the last road trip before conference play.

Sophomore Audrey O’Connor is traveling with the team for the first time this spring and will be available to play doubles. Meanwhile, Melissa Kopinski has used the time off to rehab her biceps tendonitis.

“I haven’t been playing as much as I’d like,” Kopinski said. “But everyone else on the team has been training pretty hard, so we’re always expecting to do our best.”

Perhaps the biggest difference Illinois will face in the Blue Gray Classic is that the tournament will be played outside, a nearly unthinkable concept for a home match at this time of year.

But sitting idle for two weeks has the Illini itching to get back onto the court.

“I think they’re hungry,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “You know, we’re disappointed. The last time we traveled — Oklahoma and Wichita State — didn’t sit well with us. I think the girls have been working hard. At some point when you’re a competitor and you get a couple weeks off, you’re itching to go, and I’m hoping that’s where we’re at.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected].