Women's Tennis
Illini Open Conference Play at Home this Saturday

The Illini will host Northwestern for their first Big Ten match of the season.
The Illini will host Northwestern for their first Big Ten match of the season.

March 9, 2012

Live Stats

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The University of Illinois women's tennis team (6-4) will open Big Ten play in Urbana this Saturday, welcoming No. 14 Northwestern to Atkins Tennis Center for a 5 p.m. start. The match will feature Campus Kids' Day events, including free food and enter-to-win contests for children, eighth grade and under.

Last season, the Illini suffered a 5-2 loss at the hands of Northwestern on April 10 and fell once again to the Wildcats, 4-0, on April 30 to end a semifinal run at the Big Ten Tournament. Current junior Breanne Smutko came away with victories in both singles and doubles action in Illinois' regular season clash despite the Illini's struggles. Northwestern leads the all-time series, 44-8, and the Illini have lost the last 10 meetings with the Wildcats, dating back to April 4, 2004.

The Illini are perfect at home this season, going 3-0 thus far with dominating wins over Western Illinois, Illinois State and SMU. The Orange and Blue have dropped only one singles match this spring while playing at Atkins, downing both Western Illinois and Illinois State, 7-0, in a day-night doubleheader. Saturday's match marks the first home contest for the Illini since Feb. 3, when they cruised past SMU, 6-1.

The Wildcats are 5-6 this season and are in the midst of a five-match losing streak after facing top-20 teams in their last eight matches, going 2-6 in that stretch with road wins over then-No. 8 North Carolina and No. 9 Virginia. The squad is coming off losses last weekend to then-No. 9 Texas and No. 12 Baylor. Northwestern boasts three nationally ranked singles players, including Kate Turvy at No. 20, followed by Brittany Wowchuk at No. 51 and Belinda Niu at No. 118, along with the fourth-ranked doubles tandem of Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton. The Wildcats are 2-3 on the road this season.

The University of Illinois men's and women's tennis teams will return home this weekend to host Campus Kids' Day Weekend Extravaganza, March 10-11 at Atkins Tennis Center. The two-day event will feature a women's match against No. 14 Northwestern on Saturday, followed by a showdown between the 20th-ranked Illini men and No. 17 Texas A&M on Sunday. Admission is free for both matches.

Saturday's match for the Orange and Blue women kicks off at 5 p.m. with free pizza for children, eighth grade and under, beginning at 4:30 p.m. All kids in attendance will have the chance to participate in an on-court game between doubles and singles play. The event will feature children-only enter-to-win contests and also will double as Girl Scout Day with patches available for girl scouts who pre-register. For more information about Girl Scout Day, contact Brooke Buzard at 217-333-8782 or bbuzard2@illinois.edu.

The Illini women will team up with the C-U Autism Network to host a clinic for children with autism prior to the match from 1-2 p.m. at Atkins Tennis Center. For more information on how to register, email info@cuautismnetwork.org or call 217-621-8429.

Three-year Illinois assistant coach Georgia Rose was a four-time All-American at Northwestern, compiling 125 singles wins, including a 29-2 mark in the Big Ten. She was named ITA Midwest Regional Senior of the Year in 2009, ending the season ranked No. 21 nationally in singles and No. 13 in doubles after advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships. Rose helped lead the Wildcats to four straight Big Ten titles and a final national ranking of No. 2 in 2008 and 2009. She also was only the second player in school history to qualify for the NCAA Singles Championships in each of her four seasons.

The Illini moved up a spot since last week to a season-best No. 45 in the latest national team rankings (March 6), improving 13 places since their last outing. In singles rankings, sophomore Allison Falkin jumped ahead 24 spots to a career-high No. 96 on Feb. 28 after cracking the top 125 for the first time in her career on Feb. 16. In doubles, junior Rachael White and Falkin reached No. 40, marking their first ranking as a duo this season after reaching as high as No. 9 last season.

The Illini captured a convincing 4-0 win over No. 40 Princeton before dropping a 4-3 thriller to No. 20 Alabama and a disappointing 4-0 contest to No. 33 Arizona at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic, Feb. 25-26 in Montgomery, Ala.

The Illini got off to a dominant start against Princeton, taking the first four singles matches to clinch a quick Illinois victory. Junior Rachael White and senior Chelcie Abajian cruised to straight-set wins at the Nos. 4 and 6 spots, respectively. Freshman Melissa Kopinski downed her opponent in two sets as well, capturing a 7-5, 7-6(4) win over Rachel Saiontz at No. 3. Redshirt senior Marisa Lambropoulos added to the Illini success, winning a 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 battle against No. 85 Hilary Bartlett at No. 1 singles.

The Illini continued their solid play with three singles wins against second-seeded and 20th-ranked Alabama. Junior Breanne Smutko captured a 6-3, 6-4 win at No. 6 singles, while Kopinski followed up her first-round victory with a 6-1, 6-3 win at the No. 3 spot. In the final completed singles match of the day, sophomore Allison Falkin posted a 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 comeback over No. 40 Alexa Guarachi at No. 2 singles to save the Illini and force the match into doubles play. The Illini could not pull off the upset, however, losing two doubles matches.

After solid first and second rounds, the Orange and Blue stumbled in the third-place match against Arizona. The Illini struggled early, dropping the doubles point with losses at the Nos. 1 and 3 spots. Lambropoulos and Kopinski teamed up to capture the only win of the day for the Orange and Blue, downing Wildcat duo Sarah Landsman and Hailey Johnson, 8-5, at No. 2 doubles.

University of Illinois junior Rachael White was named Big Ten Athlete of the Week for the first time in her career on Feb. 21 for her strong performance against then-No. 23 Notre Dame. The Deerfield, Ill., native knocked off the nation's third-ranked doubles tandem and cruised to a singles victory despite a 4-3 Illinois loss.

White got off to a strong start, teaming up with sophomore Allison Falkin to take down No. 3 Kristy Frilling and Shannon Mathews in an 8-5 upset at the No. 1 spot, which clinched the doubles point for the Orange and Blue. White followed up her stellar doubles performance with a 6-0, 7-5 win in singles, giving Illinois a 3-2 lead going into the final two singles matches of the day.

The award marked the first for an Illini since Illinois graduate Megan Fudge garnered the honor on April 13, 2010.

The Orange and Blue will take a week off before heading south for their spring break road trip to wrap up the nonconference schedule. Illinois will face Rice on Monday, March 19 in Houston before traveling to the University of Texas on Wednesday, March 21. Both matches start at 2 p.m. CT.