Freshman adjusting well to college tennis

There were a few fresh faces for Illinois women’s tennis when it opened its fall season on Sept. 27. Freshmen Grace Tapak of Hinsdale, Ill., and Jade Hilton of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, made their debuts at the Notre Dame Invitational.

Both came out of the weekend with winning records. Tapak finished with a 4-3 record, 1-2 in singles and 3-1 in doubles. While not very pleased with her singles record, she was very confident in her doubles record, as she and her partner, sophomore Louise Kwong, played strong tennis all weekend.

Tapak admitted that in the beginning, nervousness did play a small factor, but it didn’t take her too long to get over it.

Hilton finished the weekend with a 6-1 record, 3-0 in singles and 3-1 in doubles. She and her doubles partner Jerricka Boone won three straight matches after dropping their first.

“My first (singles) match I was really nervous,” Hilton said. “But after a few matches, I calmed down. It was really nice hearing my team cheer me on.”

Hilton said her biggest influence on coming to Illinois was her friend, and now teammate Kwong, who is also from Canada. She was recruited by former assistant coach Ric Mortera, so up until practice started this year, head coach Michelle Dasso had never seen her play. Dasso was confident about Hilton, though, because of what she had heard about her great work ethic.

Recruiting players from Canada is not much different from recruiting from the states, according to Dasso. Ontario is only an hour-long flight from Chicago’s O’Hare airport, much closer than other recruiting areas such as Texas and Atlanta.

While Hilton needed a passport to get to the Atkins Tennis Center, Tapak only needed about a three-hour car ride. Being from the Chicago suburbs, Tapak said it was always a goal of hers to represent her state. She did admit that playing at her state’s biggest university was more than she expected.

“I am really starting to bond with the team, and it’s already starting to feel like home,” Hilton said.

Dasso feels like the two are still adjusting, but knows that the two have been working hard on transitioning to college.

Tapak feels the team has been great to her and Hilton.

“It’s all been a little intimidating, but once you get out on the courts and play a few matches, it’s really an honor to be out here.”

Cole can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @cole_Henke.