Illinois sure likes to schedule the tough ones, don't they?
After a tough non-conference slate, Illinois Women’s Tennis turned it on in Big Ten play, finishing with an 8-3 conference record, including a big upset over No. 18 Ohio State at home this past weekend.
9-1 at home is fantastic. However, the Illini's away and neutral site record hurt what could have been an even better season for head coach Evan Clark and his team.
Again, though, when you play (rankings at the time the Illini played these teams) Duke (#4), Kansas (#16), Virginia (#21), Texas (#18), Northwestern (#13), and Ohio State (#11), you're going to have a tough time winning matches. Don't forget Big Ten favorite, Michigan (#18).
Finishing 14-10 with that schedule is a testament to the ability of this team, however.
Especially knocking off Ohio State, a team the Illini had not defeated since 2014. Senior Daniela Pedraza Novak picked up a big 7-5, 6-3 victory over Buckeye freshman Isabelle Boulais to even the match 2-2. Eventually, the match hinged on sophomore Asuka Kawai, and she did not disappoint.
#Illini 4 | Ohio State 2— Illinois W Tennis (@IlliniWTennis) April 21, 2019
Match clincher from @americasuka2! She goes 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 over Fukuda on court one to seal the Illinois victory! pic.twitter.com/xzghgynYYe
Led by sophomores Kawai and Mia Rabinowitz, and senior Jaclyn Switkes, Illinois will come to Lincoln, Nebraska battle-tested and ready to make some noise.
Their first match will be against the No. 6-seed Minnesota on Friday. Previously, the Illini stomped the Gophers in Minneapolis 6-1, one of the more impressive road wins of the season.
If the Illini can make it through the Golden Gophers, it potentially sets up a window to the Big Ten Championship game. The Michigan Wolverines loom as the No. 1 seed, however, and the Wolverines will be a tough team to beat.
Let's hope the team breaks through their road work and plucks a few teams off the bracket. However the season ends, the future looks bright for the Illini going forward.
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