Illinois women’s tennis keeps tournament hopes alive

By Thomas Donley

The Illinois women’s tennis team entered the weekend needing to win both of its matches in order to stay alive in the hunt for the NCAA tournament. At Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Illini did just that, edging out the Gophers on Friday and handling the Badgers easily on Easter Sunday.

Once again, the doubles point proved to be crucial for Illinois (13-9, 6-5 Big Ten) on Friday, as it pulled out a 4-3 victory over third-place Minnesota (16-8, 6-5). Senior Allison Falkin and junior Melissa Kopinski defeated Minnesota’s Tereza Brichacova and Jessika Mozia while freshmen Alexis Casati and Jerricka Boone took down Aria Lambert and Paula Rincon Ortero to put Illinois in the lead with the doubles point.

Falkin, Kopinski and freshman Louise Kwong sealed the victory for the Illini by winning their respective singles matches. Only one singles match saw a third set, as Casati fell to Brichacova in the No. 1 position.

The Gophers continued their recent slide, losing for the fourth time in seven matches. Saturday also marked the sixth time in Minnesota’s last seven matches that it had lost the doubles point. The win was the first for Illinois in a true road match this spring.

“We’ve had (five) 4-3 matches this year. It’s pretty simple: if we win the doubles point, we win those matches,” head coach Michelle Dasso said in a press release. “I was proud of the girls’ pre-match atmosphere they created and the competitive spirit on the court. We are looking forward to finishing off the regular season on a high note Sunday.”

With the win over Minnesota, Illinois pulled into a three-way tie for sixth place in the Big Ten with Indiana and Michigan State at 5-5, one match behind Minnesota. Sunday’s win was even more crucial for the Illini’s place the Big Ten standings.

Illinois finished the regular season strong by beating Wisconsin (7-12, 2-9) by the final score of 5-2, bringing its winning streak to three matches.

After the Illini again took the doubles point, Kopinski, Kwong, Boone and senior Misia Kedzierski came through in their respective singles matches to wrap up Illinois’ most successful road trip of the spring.

Because Minnesota lost to Northwestern and Indiana defeated Michigan State on Sunday, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota finished the regular season in a three-way tie for fifth-place in the Big Ten, with the Illini holding the tiebreaker by virtue of having beaten the other two teams in head-to-head competition. As a result, Illinois will face last-place Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The way the Illini perform in Big Tens will determine whether or not they make the NCAA tournament.

“This weekend was a great way to end our regular season,” Dasso said. “Doubles is clicking which is huge. We are excited that the Big Ten Tournament is at Northwestern. We have so many players from that area it will feel like playing at home.”

Thomas can be reached at [email protected] and @donley_thomas.