Illini women’s tennis clinch 2 victories in Alabama tournament

By Thomas Donley

After spending the weekend in spring-like conditions at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic, the Illinois women’s tennis team is heading back home with two more wins under its belt.

The Illini traveled to the tournament in Montgomery, Ala., where they won two out of three matches against some of the nation’s top competition.

“Getting wins outside is going to help us with our confidence down the road,” head coach Michelle Dasso said.

After getting shut out Friday by No. 14 Alabama, Illinois battled back to win its final two matches of the tournament, beating Yale on Saturday and finishing the tournament with a win over Oklahoma State.

Alabama made quick work of Illinois, dominating from start to finish. The Crimson Tide did not allow a single match to go three sets.

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Allison Falkin, Melissa Kopinski and Alexis Casati each won their first individual sets, but under the experimental format used in the Blue Gray Classic, the match was over once Alabama won its fourth match, rather than finishing all seven matches.

Alabama would go on to win the tournament, defeating Rice 4-3 in the finals. The loss was the third straight for Illinois.

“We were disappointed that we lost to Alabama because we certainly felt that we were right there in that match,” Dasso said. “In general, I think the girls responded so well the next two days, picking up key wins.”

Illinois edged out a 4-3 win against Yale, which lost to No. 21 Texas Tech in the first round.

The Illini took the doubles point in two sets, while Louise Kwong, Jerricka Boone and Allison Falkin each won their individual matches. Falkin defeated Madeleine Hamilton 6-7, 6-1, 11-9 in dramatic fashion in the final match to seal the victory for her team.

“I could see what was going on around me, so I knew that it was three-all,” Falkin said. “Everyone was on the court. Everyone was cheering. It was a great atmosphere”

After knocking off Hamilton and ending the match, Falkin let it all out.

“After I won, I started crying,” Falkin said. “I was so happy.”

Sunday, the Illini defeated Oklahoma State 4-2 in the consolation bracket finals. The Cowgirls defeated Tulane on Saturday after falling to Rice in the first round to advance to the consolation finals.

Junior Melissa Kopinski and freshmen Kwong, Boone and Casati each picked up individual wins for the Illini against Oklahoma State, as Kwong fought off tiebreakers to clinch the match in a 10-point final set.

“Nothing was going through my head, really,” Kwong said. “Other than ‘I don’t want to lose this last match.”

Kwong’s victory ended the match before doubles play started. Doubles was moved to the ends of matches Sunday so that teams could catch their flights.

“The girls just played some good high-quality tennis and picked up two great wins,” Dasso said. “Even though we lost to Alabama, we knew we were right there and they’re a top 15 team. Hats off to the girls for picking up wins versus Yale and Oklahoma State.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected]