Kopinski powers Illini women’s tennis into heart of Big Ten play

By Jonathan Joffe

Melissa Kopinski was not feeling well last Sunday, the day of the Illinois women’s tennis team’s match against No. 24 Indiana. 

But a cold couldn’t stop the senior captain from storming back to win after being down 5-7 in doubles and then taking straight sets in her singles match to lead Illinois to a 6-1 victory. Kopinski was subsequently named Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week, the first weekly award of her career. 

The last time an Illinois player received this award was in February of 2012, when Rachael White — Kopinski’s old doubles partner — took home the accolade. 

Illini head coach Michelle Dasso noted that toughness won the match for Illinois last Sunday and said the team’s toughness stems from its captain.

“She played some great tennis on Sunday and obviously led this team,” Dasso said. “She’s just an outstanding kid and a great teammate.”

Dasso was surprised that it was Kopinski’s first weekly award, and confidently stated that if anyone deserved recognition, it was certainly her senior leader.

Kopinski remained modest, however, noting that she was shocked to hear that she had won the award after playing only one “good” match that week. Nevertheless, Kopinski was excited to have some fuel for a family rivalry — her twin brother Tim is on the Illini men’s tennis team.

“My brother has gotten it a few more times than I have, so it feels good to finally get it,” Kopinski said. “I’m glad I’m the more recent winner so I get some bragging rights.”

Sophomore Louise Kwong — Kopinski’s doubles partner on Sunday — attributed the comeback they made against the Hoosiers to Kopinski’s leadership and guidance. “We were down 5-7 in doubles and (Melissa) came up to me and told me that she needed me right now because it’s just me and her on the court, so let’s do this together,” Kwong said. “That really helped me get through the match.” 

The win against Indiana could not have come at a better time for the Illini, who head into the weekend facing a tough task — an away match at Penn State on Friday, and a home match against No. 22 Ohio State on Sunday.

Dasso likes what she is seeing from her team and said that morale is high.

“We certainly picked up some confidence,” Dasso said. “We won pretty decisively (against Indiana) without even gracing our lineup in doubles or singles, so the girls are feeling good.”

Even though Penn State is unranked, Dasso was quick to note that there are no easy matches. She emphasized the importance of picking up the doubles point as a way to gain momentum.

While Illinois had an impressive showing against Indiana in the doubles portion of Sunday’s match, Dasso does not want her team to get cocky.

“I think we’ve been playing better in doubles, but we’re not quite there yet.” Dasso said. “We’ve gotta continue to work on that.”

Dasso has not even spoken with her team about Ohio State yet, wanting her team to focus on Penn State. She pointed out that the time to talk about Ohio State is Saturday morning, after the team’s match with the Nittany Lions concludes.  

Although Kopinski and the Illini are not used to accolades, winning both matches, one against a ranked opponent, could bring more attention their way as they head into the heart of Big Ten play.

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