Illinois women’s tennis faces Southern Illinois before conference play

By Thomas Donley

The Illinois women’s tennis team will take on Southern Illinois at the Atkins Tennis Center this Sunday to wrap up its nonconference schedule. The match was added to the schedule to make up for canceled matches against Wake Forest and Illinois-Chicago.

Illinois is 6-4 in the spring after winning two of three matches at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic. Head coach Michelle Dasso gave the team three days off from practice this week to recover from the tournament and catch up on school work. However, some team members have still been working out and rehabbing during their days off.

“We have quite a few players with nagging injuries or flu-like symptoms,” Dasso said. “And this break comes at a good time before Big Ten season kicks off.”

One player battling sickness has been sophomore Audrey O’Connor.

“We’re all hurting,” said O’Connor. “We had a really long weekend. Emotionally and physically, we’re all exhausted.”

After losing its first three matches of the spring, Southern Illinois is currently riding a six-match winning streak, including all five matches of its current six-match home stand, which will conclude Saturday against Cleveland State. Junior Natasha Tomishima went 5-0 combined in doubles and singles for the Salukis in Sunday’s doubleheader against Southeast Missouri State and Tennessee-Martin.

Although Southern Illinois’s victories have come against the likes of Austin Peay State University, Chicago State University and other mid-major conference opponents, said Dasso, the coaching staff will not allow the team to overlook SIU in anticipation of the start of Big Ten play.

“We try not to do that,” O’Connor said, in regards to overlooking Southern Illinois. “Every match we focus and remind ourselves just to have ‘faceless opponents’ and just treat every team with respect.”

Dasso announced that Sunday, Illinois will most likely be changing up its doubles pairings for the first time this year, in an effort to maximize the team’s potential.

“I think that if what’s going on right now isn’t working, then it probably is needed to change something,” junior Julia Jamieson said. “We’ll see what works in practice.”

At least one pair will have to change for sure, as junior Melissa Kopinski will be held out of Sunday’s match to rest for Big Ten play. Kopinski has been battling biceps tendonitis this spring.

Sunday will mark the end of play with experimental format for the Illini and a return to the old format used in conference play. Last weekend, under the ITA’s experimental format, matches ended after one team had won four points, and doubles ended after one team had taken two sets to make matches shorter and more marketable. Under the old rules, all matches are played, regardless of the outcome.

Having three days off of practice has not kept the Illini out of the gym. Jamieson has been hitting at Atkins Tennis Center to stay sharp.

“I guess I’ve always been the type of person who doesn’t take many days off,” Jamieson said. “I did that in juniors, and I just continue that pattern now.”

Other than changing up doubles pairings, the Illini’s approach for Sunday appears to be simple.

“Fight hard,” O’Connor said. “Play smart. Don’t underestimate them, and just have a good match.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected]