Tennis Talk with Amy Allin: 1st Edition

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Tennis Talk takes fans behind the scenes of the Illini women's tennis team. In the first edition, senior Amy Allin gives fans an inside look at this year's team challenge and provides an in-depth recap from the team's Greyfield Cup Challenge -- a seven-station competition that combined both the men's and women's tennis teams.

What's up Illini nation?


Amy Allin here with a long and overdue update. The Illini are back in action, which means the blog is back in action, so get excited! We were going to have our new freshman, Melissa "Mel" Kopinski write it, but with this weekend's adventure, that may have been one too many new things for the kid. Consequently, responsibility fell on me, but I assure you, you will have the pleasure of hearing from everybody, so I urge everyone to keep an eye out for updates.


OK, so a bit of a recap coming your way. First, and most importantly, the team challenge is back on.  For those who remember, Team Dasso fell to the far superior Team Rose in last year's showdown of off-court competitions.  We have decided to keep our teams and split the freshmen, so Team Dasso now consists of head coach Michelle Dasso, volunteer assistant Ric Mortera, Breanne "Bre Bre" Smutko, Allison "Big Al" Falkin, Michelle "Misia" Kedzierski and freshman Julia Jamieson.  And. . . drum roll, please. . .  For Team Rose, we have assistant coach Georgia Rose, Marisa "Mish" Lambropoulos, Chelcie "Bat" Abajian, Rachael "RachFace" White, Melissa "Mel" Kopinski, and yours truly.


The first challenge of the year was soccer.  The field got heated as the game was forced to overtime. The next goal would determine the champion and recipient of the first intrasquad competition point of the year. Luckily, Team Rose had a pre-match inspirational video sent from Georgia's brother, Andy Rose, and his teammates on the UCLA soccer team.  It was just the boost we needed to pull out the win. Andy, we couldn't have done it without you!


However, Team Dasso, fueled by the loss, bounced back as the team took the next challenge to the sand volleyball court for a game of speedball. For those unfamiliar with the game, the concept is to throw the volleyball over the net and try and get it to hit the ground on the opponent's side of the court.  In the unfortunate event that the other team catches the ball, the catcher must immediately throw the ball without taking any steps, and try to have the ball once again hit the sand. After an hour of stiff competition, it came down to one final, deciding game.  Team Dasso ultimately prevailed and tied the score, 1-1.


If you have yet to pick up on it, we are a team that is all about competition.  As some of you may have seen on Facebook, last weekend we had the Greyfield Cup Challenge.  Let's go back.  Three weeks ago, we met with the men's tennis team and picked names out of a hat to partner each girl on the team with one of the guys. All we were told at this point was that former All-American Illini football player John Wright was having us out to his house for a challenge. For the next two weeks, every few days, we would get an e-mail with hints about the upcoming challenge, ranging from, "Hope you can swim" to more ambiguous clues, such as "Leave behind your fear of heights."


When the big day finally came, we loaded up the van, and headed to Wright's home, about thirty minutes from campus. I will note at this time that I am using the term, "home," incredibly loosely.  On his land, we found a football field, pond, tennis court, basketball hoops, putting greens, ropes course and plenty more that would have taken days to explore. Anyway, upon our arrival, we filed inside to sign waivers because of the extreme nature of the upcoming event.  Intense, right? We then did a walkthrough of the seven stations because once the action started, there would be no stopping.  Here's how it worked.  There were seven teams and seven stations.  Each team would start at a different station and have ten minutes to complete the task. The firing of a gun would signal that it was time to rotate, and each team would hustle to the next station before the next gun would sound.  On to the exciting part, here is what happened . . . .


Station 1: While everyone started somewhere different, my first station was shooting. (Frightening, I know.)  Each duo was allowed ten shots in which the pair was required to take turns.  We used a rifle of some sort (sorry, I don't know more; guns are not my specialty) and aimed at a target that was probably 30 yards away.  I am sad to report that my partner, Dennis Novolo, and I were the only ones to miss the target completely. The victory was captured by Melissa and Stephen Hoh.


Station 2: The next challenge was by far the most physically demanding; Wright called it the Sampson Challenge. This task was on the football field and called for each pair to push a heavy rolling contraption down the field and back, TWICE! This event had some close finishes until Rachael and Big Roy Kalmanovich came along, blew away the competition and claimed the crown.


Station 3: Needing some time to recover from the previous grueling task, station three was free-throw shooting. Each person would have 20 opportunities to shoot, the first 10 counting for one point and the second 10 counting for two points in the spirit of mounting pressure. Mish and Tim Kopinski outshined the rest and clinched the title. (Side note: I figure this would be a good time to mention that Melissa has a twin brother, Tim, who is a part of the men's tennis team.)


Station 4: Next up was Kayaking.  Each team started on the dock and, at the sound of the gun, sprinted to the kayak, untied it from the dock and rowed to the other side of the pond, around a buoy and back to the dock.  I am pleased to say that this is where Dennis and I claimed our one and only victory. However, I feel it is important to note that the real entertainment here came from Bre and Bruno Abdelnour. On their return to the dock, the two engineering majors did not effectively plan their finish, and shot a good 30 feet past the dock. At a loss of understanding on how to get back, the two dove into the pond and started pulling the kayak. While there was nothing in the rules banning such action, it was not time efficient and gave them a seventh-place finish in the event.


Station 5: Bre and Bruno quickly redeemed themselves in the next challenge, which was the giant ladder (ropes course). The task here was to get to the sixth step of the hanging ladder; only this was not your typical ladder. Each rung was approximately six feet apart, the distance increasing from one step to the next. This called for teamwork at its finest and led to many laughs. No explanation could do it justice. 


Caution to future rope-course participants: You will leave with bruises. While the adrenaline masked all pain in the moment, we found ourselves with peculiar bruises head-to-toe. However, Mel managed to acquire the biggest, most colorful, long-lasting bruises this team has ever seen, giving her the new nickname, "Bruiser." We ask for your help in making sure this name sticks.


Station 6: While the intensity was overwhelming, station six allowed for a brief period of relaxation, which was a good old-fashioned game of bags, tailgate style. Each team alternated for 40 throws total, awarding one point to a bag that landed on the board and three points for getting it in the hole. Once again, the Melissa-Stephen tandem demonstrated the most precision, claiming their second victory. Note: This team was the only team to claim a title in two events, so job well done to them.


Station 7: The final station was field goal kicking. Each team alternated kicking for a total of 30 times. However, our lack of accuracy led to much time wasted chasing the football, and only one team had time to complete all its kicks within the allotted time. The first kick had to be from the 10-yard line. Once an individual completed a field goal, he or she could move back in five-yard increments. I know you all will be shocked and stunned, but there was little noteworthy action on the women's part. Rachael, Big Al, and Julia were the only female scorers, completing 10-yarders each.  However, freshman Ross Guinon, partner of Big Al Falkin, stepped up his game, and made it all the way back to the 30-yard line, claiming a decisive victory for the young guns. We later learned their secret in that they were the only team to not use the kicking tee. I think that may have worked out better for Dennis and I, who chose to use the stand, but placed it upside-down and backwards . . . I think it's best that we stick to tennis. 


At the end of the seventh event, the points were tallied up. Seven points were awarded for a first-place finish, six points for second place, and so on.  At the end of it all, the trophy (literally, we had a trophy) went to . . . drum roll . . . Allison "Big Al" Falkin and Ross Guinon.  It was a well fought battle and certainly an event that the returning players will look forward to next year. 


I know what you must be thinking, after all this, anything else we do this season is destined to be an emotional letdown. Not true.  One of the highlights for the team was most certainly our first Hometown Heroes event of the year. The first Friday of each month, Barkstall Elementary School students have a "Walk to School Day," where students who ride the bus get dropped off a block or so away, or those whose parents drive them to school are let out early so they can take part in the walk. We met the school kids at the various drop spots and walked the remainder of the way with them. Once we got to the classroom, we said the Pledge of Allegiance with the students and answered questions about tennis, setting goals, hard work and college in general.  The experience was certainly memorable and something we hope to do again.


So, my original intent for this blog was to give a brief season overview and then focus on the Duke Invitational.  Well, I am now three pages in and not one word has been mentioned about the tournament, and let me tell you, there is a lot to talk about.  So, here is the plan.  I am going to leave you with this for now. Take it all in, absorb it and get excited because it will not be long until part two comes your way. If you are reading this on Facebook, feel free to leave questions, comments, concerns, or complaints, and I would love to address them in round two.  If you are reading this on FightingIllini.com, get on Facebook and become friends with Illinois W Tennis. We try to keep the page updated with our latest adventures, and best of all, it gives us a chance to hear from y'all, which we love. I'm sorry to say, but that is all for now. 


Until next time, you stay classy, Illini.

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