11-13 (5-5 Big Ten) | T-5th Place Big Ten | Highlight Video
In a season riddled with untimely injuries and a schedule chock full of the country's top teams, the Illinois women's tennis team maintained its positive attitude and strong work ethic while enduring the highs and lows of the year. The squad opened the dual season with a top-25 Campbell/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) national ranking and collected four wins over nationally ranked opponents for the year, while also boasting two All-Big Ten selections in sophomore Rachael White and junior Amy Allin and five Academic All-Big Ten honorees including Allin, seniors Leigh Finnegan and Annie McCarthy, junior Chelcie Abajian and sophomore Breanne Smutko.
The fall season successfully launched the doubles partnership of White and freshman Allison Falkin, who finished runner-up at the USTA/ITA Midwest Regional Championships in October to claim the Illini's best finish since 2004. The tandem, which led the team with 18 wins for the year and played exclusively at the No. 1 spot, reached as high as No. 9 in the national rankings in March and ended the year at No. 53.
The Florida Gulf Coast Invitational marked the start of the spring season, as the Illini headed south to train and take on opponents from South Florida, Purdue, North Texas, North Florida, Akron, Stetson, Northwestern State, Louisville and Florida Gulf Coast. Illinois went a combined 32-2 in singles and doubles over the three-day tournament, with Finnegan, McCarthy, White, Smutko and freshman Misia Kedzierski reaching championship matches in their respective flights.
The squad returned home the following week to begin dual play, which included seven top-30 opponents in their first 10 matches. Though the Illini captured just four wins during that stretch (Iowa, DePaul, Penn State, Western Michigan), they would go on to win four of their next six matches including a shut out of in-state rival Illinois State to close out the non-conference season.
With six Big Ten foes remaining in the regular season, the Illini topped Iowa for the second time and also downed Michigan State to finish tied for fifth place in the conference standings with a 5-5 mark. Seeded sixth in the Big Ten Tournament, Illinois easily toppled Michigan State and Purdue to advance to the semifinals for the fourth straight year, where it met second-seeded Northwestern. The Wildcats had won the last two semifinal matches against the Illini and unfortunately, that streak continued with a 4-0 victory. With the loss, Illinois concluded the year at 11-13 and did not receive an at-large bid into the NCAA Championships for the first time in three years.
Individually, several Illini put together one of their finest seasons yet. White, who split time between Nos. 1 and 2 singles, garnered first-team All-Big Ten honors for the first time in her career and also was voted co-Advantage Illinois Most Valuable Player by her teammates. White, ranked No. 100 in the final national rankings, led the team with a career-best 23 wins in doubles, including 18 with Falkin, and ranked second on the team in singles with a career-high 18.
Allin secured second-team All-Big Ten honors for the first time in her career, in addition to earning various team awards including co-Advantage Illinois Most Valuable Player, Most Improved, the Brianna Knue Fighting Illini Spirit Award and the Strength and Conditioning Award. Allin boasted a team-best 23 wins in singles playing at Nos. 1-3 and ranked fourth on the team with 17 victories in doubles.
Falkin, who was selected Player to Watch by her teammates, saw singles action in all but three dual matches playing at Nos. 3-6. She finished the year ranked third on the team with 17 wins and was second in doubles with 22. Smutko found her stride in doubles, as she ranked third on the squad with 20 doubles victories, including 10 with junior Chelcie Abajian, with whom she reached as high as No. 55 in the national rankings.
McCarthy went 7-3 in tournament play and posted a 5-2 mark for the dual season in singles, while alongside Smutko, she tallied seven of her 12 doubles wins. For her career, McCarthy finished with 41 singles victories and 64 in doubles. In April, McCarthy was announced as the female recipient of the 2011 Wilson/ITA Promoter Student-Athlete of the Year Award. The award recognizes individuals who promote the game of tennis at the collegiate level by devoting consistent time and effort to promotional activities and who support and bring awareness to either their school program or to the sport as a whole. As part of the honor, she received a paid summer internship at Wilson's global headquarters in Chicago.
The injury bug struck many Illini this season and contributed to shortened seasons for Finnegan, senior Marisa Lambropoulos, Abajian and Kedzierski. Finnegan, in her final season as an Illini, missed the entire fall season and early duals, before returning for 13 matches. She collected seven singles wins and 11 doubles to bring her career totals to 60 in singles and 67 in doubles. She also earned the team's Scholar-Athlete Award.
Lambropoulos was 6-2 in singles and doubles before being forced to miss the remainder of the season. She was eligible to redshirt and will return next year for her senior season.
Abajian collected 11 singles wins, including three in Big Ten play and two over nationally ranked opponents before being sidelined for the final 10 matches of the season. She recorded 14 doubles victories, with 10 coming alongside Smutko, and the tandem finished at No. 72 in the final national rankings.
Kedzierski tallied four wins in tournaments and added two more in the spring, but was only available for competition in nine dual matches. She finished 7-5 in doubles, with five wins coming in tournament play.
The Illini return six letterwinners next season and will welcome a pair of in-state athletes to the squad, as head coach Michelle Dasso announced the addition of two standout recruits for the 2011-12 season in Julia Jamieson (Wilmette, Ill./Loyola Academy) and Melissa Kopinski (Palos Hills, Ill./Amos Alonzo Stagg). According to TennisRecruiting,net, Kopinski was rated a blue-chip recruit, while Jamieson is a five-star, earning Illinois the No. 9 recruiting class for next season.