Illinois women’s tennis faces off against Coach Dasso’s alma mater

Illinois+Melissa+Kopinski+attempts+to+return+the+ball+during+the+meet+against+UIUC+at+Atkins+Tennis+Center+on+Jan.+25%2C+2015.+The+Illini+won+7-0.

Illinois’ Melissa Kopinski attempts to return the ball during the meet against UIUC at Atkins Tennis Center on Jan. 25, 2015. The Illini won 7-0.

By Cole Henke

The Illinois women’s tennis match against No. 20 Notre Dame at home this Saturday means a little bit more than any other match to head coach Michelle Dasso — Dasso graduated from Notre Dame in 2001.

She was a four-year starter for Notre Dame and set multiple school records, including most singles wins (140), most career wins at No. 1 singles (67), season singles victories (40) and combined season victories (74).

To make the match even more significant, Dasso’s old coach, Jay Louderback, still coaches the Irish. Dasso and her former coach still keep in touch, and every year when this match comes around, a little bit of trash talk ensues.

“It normally just becomes a contest of comparing gray hairs,” Dasso said. “And he always wins those.”

To her players, it is obvious how much this match means to Dasso. Her intensity during practice is higher than it normally is.

“Michelle is amped,” senior Melissa Kopinski said. “She is trying to keep us motivated every day. We have only been focusing on Notre Dame this weekend, too, and not just looking at the complete weekend.”

The Irish will be the toughest contest yet for the Illini, whose highest-ranked opponent so far was then-No. 26 Kentucky.

Dasso is putting a major focus on the doubles point against Notre Dame, a historically strong doubles team.

Only one of Notre Dame’s top four doubles players is returning from last season. Dasso knows the team will still be tough, but she looks at the doubles point as a way for her team to take control of the match early.

The Illini haven’t won the doubles point against Notre Dame since Kopinski’s freshman year. Kopinski, who was a late scratch from the singles lineup last week against San Jose State, will be returning to the lineup and hopes to make an impact in both singles and doubles.

The Illini have two other home matches against Chicago State and Marquette on Sunday. While those matches are important, the Illini are keeping their sights set on Notre Dame on Saturday.

The Illini are 8-23 against the Irish all-time, and have not won at home against the Irish since 1992. Despite the poor record, the team is confident that they can pull out a win, and are using Dasso’s energy to get them to the level they need to be.

“It’s really exciting to see coach in her way,” Kopinski said. “It really motivates our whole team for this weekend.”

A win on Saturday would put the team back on track and give it the momentum it needs heading into Big Ten season.

As satisfying as it would be to beat her alma mater on the court, Dasso has wondered if there are other ways to win the match.

“I mean I won enough matches for Notre Dame,” Dasso said. “You think Jay would just give me a win!”

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