Illinois women’s tennis to host Northwestern, travel to Purdue

By Thomas Donley

The Illinois women’s tennis team begins Big Ten play this weekend with matches against Northwestern and Purdue. The Illini will take on the Wildcats on Saturday at noon at Atkins Tennis Center before heading to Purdue for an 11 a.m. match Sunday.

Illinois (6-4) will finally put its two-match winning streak on the line Saturday after last Sunday’s match against Southern Illinois was rescheduled due to a forecasted snowstorm. Illinois beat Yale and Oklahoma State in its final two matches of the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic.

With the start of conference play, the Illini will begin to consistently face familiar competition than they faced over the course of their nonconference schedule.

“We know how to play them,” senior Misia Kedzierski said. “We know what to expect. When it’s not Big Ten play and we play these other teams out of conference, we kind of go in there with no expectations and just try to play our best, and in Big Ten play, we just have to try to keep that same mind set.”

Northwestern (7-3, 2-0 Big Ten) is riding a two-match win streak of its own. The No. 8 Wildcats dropped one spot in the ITA’s rankings this week despite knocking off Indiana and Purdue in their last two matches. They are led by senior Belinda Niu, who is undefeated in singles this spring.

Northwestern has played a remarkably tough nonconference schedule, having played six schools ranked in the top 25 and three ranked No. 7 or better. The Wildcats are 3-3 against top-25 teams, with their signature win of the season coming against No. 2 Florida on Feb. 8.

“Obviously, they’re one of the top teams in the conference,” head coach Michelle Dasso said. “It’s just, I don’t really put them any higher than anyone else. We talked about that with the team: Just go out there and play hard, regardless of who it is.”

Purdue (4-4, 0-1) will look rebound after a loss to Northwestern last weekend. The Boilermakers have faced just two teams ranked inside the top 25 and lost to both.

Purdue boasts the Big Ten’s reigning athlete of the week in freshman Andjela Djokovic. Djokovic earned the honor with her victory over Northwestern’s Maddie Lipp. Djokovic is 6-1 on the spring, playing in the No. 5 and No. 6 positions.

“Literally every team is beatable in the Big Ten,” Dasso said. “You’re going to have to compete your tail off.”

Illinois has spent this week working on doubles in practice. Conference play uses a format the Illini have not played under this spring, with the doubles match lasting eight games rather than six.

Junior Melissa Kopinski has not practiced in over a week but says she plans to return to action this weekend. Kopinski has been battling bicep tendonitis this spring.

Dasso is optimistic that Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day will not affect the student turnout for Saturday’s match.

“Hopefully people will wake up around 11 and come on over,” Dasso said. “That’s really what it’s about. Trying to get a good student base at our matches really does help.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected]