Well, it set up as well as expected.
After sweeping both Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Illini made their way to the Big Ten Championship match last weekend to face top seed Michigan. They even picked up the first point of the match, winning the doubles matchup with senior Jaclyn Switkes and sophomore Sasha Belaya defeating Wolverine junior Giulia Pairone and freshman Anca Carciun 6-2 to draw first blood.
Unfortunately, it went downhill from there, as Michigan swept the first four singles matches to defeat Illinois 4-1.
Overall, it was an impressive season for a fairly young Illini squad who played several ranked teams and marks only the second time in program history Illinois advanced to the Big Ten Championship match.
It also turned into a showcase season for sophomore Asuka Kawai, who finished 19-7 overall on the season and earned First Team All-Big Ten honors.
Thankfully, the NCAA acknowledged both the Illini and Kawai for their fantastic play this year, as the Illini women made the Tournament, and Kawai made the NCAA Women's Singles Championship in Orlando.
Asuka Kawai will cap off her stellar sophomore campaign with a trip to the NCAA Women's Tennis Singles Championships!— Illinois W Tennis (@IlliniWTennis) April 30, 2019
Kawai is the fifth #Illini singles player in program history to qualify for the tournament and the first since 2005. pic.twitter.com/cD1ot096Pm
As a team, Illinois has its work cut out for itself. They were placed in the Durham, North Carolina, region to start, where they play Arizona State in the first round.
If they survive, in all likelihood they will face No. 5 Duke — in the Blue Devils’ home facility. That will be a tall order.
Illinois played Duke earlier in the season in this exact situation, and got swept 4-0.
So, needless to say it looks arduous. However, I wouldn't count this team out of any match. Playing one of the toughest schedules in the country has them battle-tested and ready for anything.
Of course, that match doesn't happen if Illinois doesn't take care of business against Arizona State, a formidable team in its own right, who finished 13-10 and are looking to advance as well.
This will be the 32nd berth for Arizona State in the NCAA tournament...in a row.
Led by the No. 3-overall doubles team with No. 112-ranked Ilze Hattingh and No. 103-ranked Lauryn John-Baptiste, the Sun Devils have experience and talent.
As long as the Illini take care of business in singles play, they should be fine, as they are the better, deeper team.
For Kawai, Singles Championship matches will be a tough slate against some of the best in the country. After her stellar sophomore season, she can matchup with just about anyone in the field, however.
This is just the 13th time Illinois has made the NCAA's in program history. Kawai is just the fifth player in school history to qualify for the Singles Championship. It's a huge step in the right direction for this program and it's stars.
First match for the Illini is Saturday at 10:30 a m.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!1