Feb. 10, 2005
The University of Illinois women's tennis team heads to Cambridge, Mass,. this weekend, where a more experienced Harvard team will be awaiting. The Fighting Illini, ranked No. 34, bear little resemblance to the 2004 version which drew Crimson blood, winning 5-2 in Urbana in the teams' only previous meeting. Nearly 365 days later, all but one participant will be back in action for Harvard, while Illinois is expected to enter at least three players' names for the Saturday evening match that were not on the singles lineup card a year ago.
Senior Cynthya Goulet, junior Brianna Knue and sophomore Emily Wang are those three. Goulet and Wang have netted nine consecutive victories, compiling a 15-5 doubles record. Goulet, the Big Ten Athlete of the Week a week ago, is also the visitors' No. 1 singles player (14-4.) Knue comprises half of the team's 54th-ranked doubles combination. She and freshman Macall Harkins have won 17 of 20 matches thus far.
Illinois looks to improve upon its 4-2 season record. Coach Sujay Lama's squad opened the season with wins at Hawaii and Marquette, then lost a pair of home matches to Top-35 foes Wake Forest and Tennessee before rebounding with home victories last Sunday over Illinois State and Illinois-Chicago.
The top of the Illinois singles lineup remains intact, with Goulet (ranked No. 111) and Macall Harkins holding down the No. 1 and 2 positions. Momei Qu and Brianna Knue will probably play No. 3 and 4, though not necessarily in that order. The last two spots are still undecided, with Anastasia Sokolova, Wang, Alejandra Cuadra, and Pavlina Akritas still competing for playing time. In doubles, Wang and Goulet are expected to be in the No. 1 slot in the Harvard match, despite the fact that Harkins and Knue are Illinois' only ranked doubles team (they will start at No. 2). Qu will likely pair with either Cuadra or Sokolova at No. 3 doubles.
"There are two keys for us to win this match at Harvard," said Assistant Coach JoAnne Russell. "First we need to win the doubles point. That has been our goal all season---to win every doubles point, which we have done, except for one match. The other is that each of our players competes at her normal levels or higher--nobody can have a low-intensity or sluggish match. If we have these keys, we'll win the match."
Harvard will be Illinois' highest-ranked opponent to date. The Crimson, ranked 17th by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), having leapt from last month's 34th spot; boasts five ranked singles players along with the 48th-ranked doubles pair, Courtney Bergman and Elisa O'Riain. Bergman and fellow senior Susanna Lingman, ranked 27th and 45th respectively, lead the Crimson while younger players follow closely behind. Sophomore Preethi Mukundan returns from last year's contest with a No. 93 ranking. O'Riain comes in at 104 and freshman Celia Durkin fills out the quintuplet at 123.
Gordon Graham's Crimson opened their dual match season with a 7-0 win against Boston University, then headed to Madison, Wis., for the ITA National Team Indoors where it rebounded from a 5-2 opening day loss to No. 1 Stanford to beat then-No. 48 Wisconsin and No. 16 Texas A&M. Back home, Harvard also hosts a Friday afternoon match with No. 21 Notre Dame before entertaining the Illini.
Russell and the UI team will be traveling to the Boston area tomorrow. Head Coach Sujay Lama, whose wife, Lynne, gave birth to the couple's second child Tuesday, will join them Saturday afternoon in time for the match.