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    Big Ten Tournament Begins on Friday for Illini Women
    Sophomore Megan Fudge has won five straight and carries with her Illinois' hopes of a strong finish at Big Tens and an NCAA berth.

    Sophomore Megan Fudge has won five straight and carries with her Illinois' hopes of a strong finish at Big Tens and an NCAA berth.

    April 24, 2008

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    Big Ten Tournament Web Site

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois women's tennis team has reached a season-high No. 43 in the most recent ITA Tennis poll released this week, putting it in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth should it turn in a strong performance at the 2008 Big Ten Tournament. This year's championship is hosted by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and poses a tough battle for Illinois who faces No. 5-seeded and No. 34-ranked Ohio State in the quarterfinals on Friday, April 25, at 9 a.m. CT, 10 a.m. ET, at the Schwartz Tennis Center.

    "Obviously Ohio State is going to come out gunning for us because we beat them in the regular season, but I'm very confident we will be prepared and just as hungry to beat them again," head coach Michelle Dasso said. "This team is a very special team and we aren't ready for our season to be over. One of our main goals since the end of last season has been to qualify for the NCAA team tournament. This team deserves to experience that together and another win against Ohio State could be just what we need to snag an at-large bid. One thing is for certain, this team is going to battle for every point on Friday."

    Live scoring is available for all of the matches during this year's edition of the Big Ten Tournament, with links to each of the matches available at the official web site of the tournament at Full recaps of Illinois' matches this weekend also will be available at the conclusion of each day's action, with those stories accessed by visiting the official home of Illinois women's tennis,

    Illinois is led by the efforts of sophomore Megan Fudge (21-11), who has won her last five straight, and redshirt freshman Leigh Finnegan (10-14), who hold down the Nos. 1 and 2 singles spots, interchangeably. Senior Momei Qu trails Fudge with a total of 17 wins on the season - including the last three straight - and is matched by sophomore Kristina Minor, who has 17 as well and is on a two-match win streak. Two Illini, junior Shivani Davé and freshman Marisa Lambropoulos (two straight), both round out the Fighting Illini close to 20-win seasons in singles with 16 victories apiece heading into the weekend.

    In doubles, Illinois has finally hit its stride, winning two of the last four team points in doubles behind the efforts at the Nos. 1 and 2 positions. Fudge and Davé (4-5) head up the No. 1 doubles slot, while Finnegan and freshman Marisa Lambropoulos (4-5) take up the duties in the second spot.

    May is the month for championships on the Big Ten Network. The 2008 Big Ten Championships and Tournaments in the sports of baseball, men's and women's golf, softball, men's and women's tennis and men's and women's outdoor track and field will be televised between May 4 and May 24. All of these championship events will be produced in stunning high definition.

    The broadcast begins at 4 PM ET on Sunday, May 4, with coverage of the Big Ten Women's Tennis Championship from the campus of Purdue. The Big Ten Men's Tennis Championship, hosted by Iowa, will appear at 8 PM ET on Wednesday, May 7.

    Illinois has really found its stride when it comes to doubles play, as the tandems of junior Shivani Davé and Megan Fudge at No. 1 doubles and redshirt freshman Leigh Finnegan and freshman Marisa Lambropoulos at No. 2 have both won two out of their last four matches. The feats have come en route to helping the Illini capture back-to-back doubles points on the road against No. 29 Indiana and No. 31 Ohio State. Before those wins, Illinois had only captured the doubles point a total of four times all season.

    Since head coach Michelle Dasso mixed up the doubles lineup against Michigan State, the Illini are 11-16 in doubles matches and have won the doubles point three times out of nine contests compared to just twice through 11 duals before that point.

    Sophomore Megan Fudge is on fire as of late, winning her last five straight singles matches to help Illinois take down Penn State (4-3), nearly upset No. 29 Indiana (3-4) before then actually upsetting No. 31 Ohio State (5-2) on the road. In her most recent outings, she helped the Illini singles lineup put away Minnesota and Iowa. All five of those wins in singles for Fudge came against Big Ten opponents.

    The Illinois women's tennis team could not overcome a powerful hometown crowd for the 2007 Big Ten Tournament host Minnesota, falling 4-0 at the Baseline Tennis Center in last year's opening round contest for the Illini. The Golden Gophers used a solid effort in doubles and singles to advance past the Illini in the opening round of the conference tournament, ending Illinois' season with a 5-17 overall record and a 1-9 conference ledger.

    Coming out of the gates fast in doubles, the Gophers used wins at the Nos. 1 and 3 spots to clinch the doubles point and entered singles with an early 1-0 lead. Minnesota then posted wins at Nos. 2 and 4 singles to move within one win of the victory and a second-round berth. On court one, Fudge was stringing together a complete match against Schellhas of Minnesota in hopes of leading the comeback charge for Illinois. Up a set and tied 3-3 in the second, Fudge's efforts would prove too late as Chiarelli (MINN) downed Wang 6-1, 6-1, on court five to seal the 4-0 victory.

    Since 1999 when the Big Ten moved to the current layout of the conference tournament, Illinois has never failed to make the quarterfinals at the postseason event, winning at least one match every season except in 2007 when it fell to Minnesota in the first round.

    Illinois has fallen in the quarter's a total of four times during that span, the first coming in 2002 when they were upset as the No. 4 seed by No. 5-seeded Iowa, 4-1, and have three out of the last four years fallen in the quarterfinals, dating back to 2004.

    Four times Illinois has made it to the semifinals, those coming in 1999, 2000, 2003, and then advanced into the conference tournament title match in 2001. Illinois now looks to better those numbers when it faces No. 5-seeded Ohio State in this year's quarterfinal opener.

    The Fighting Illini's top finish at the Big Ten Tournament since 1999 came in 2001. That year, the Illini faced top-seeded Northwestern in the title match, falling 4-2 after entering the league tournament the No. 2 seed. Also during that same season, Illinois finished second during the regular season, its highest finish since the Big Ten moved to a dual match layout for the regular season in 1986.

    Prior to its second-place finish, the Illini's best regular season finish had been third in 1993, while also tossing in fourth-place finishes a total of six times, those coming in 1992, 1999-2000, 2004 and most recently in 2008.

    Junior Shivani Davé, sophomores Kristina Minor and Megan Fudge, redshirt freshman Leigh Finnegan and freshman Marisa Lambropoulos have all been crucial for the Illini in their 11 wins this season, with all five of them charting clinching singles wins.

    Davé, who is tied for third on the team in match victories at 16, has pulled out her best tennis when it counted. So far, Davé has clinched the match for Illinois in its season-opener against Florida Atlantic (7-0), against Kansas (5-2) and in UI's Big Ten opening triumph over Purdue (4-3). All three match clinchers came while Davé was playing in the No. 4 slot.

    Minor has been just as pivotal in her matches for Illinois, with her four match clinchers coming against Marquette (5-2) at No. 4 singles and against No. 60 DePaul (6-1), Michigan State (4-3) and Wisconsin (6-1) at No. 6 singles. Finnegan charted her upset win over No. 31 Ohio State at No. 2 singles, while Lambropoulos won her clincher at No. 3 singles against Penn State to help seal a 4-3 win for the Illini in the pivotal conference battle.

    In Illinois' most recent duals, team leader in wins (21) and at No. 1 singles overall, Fudge, has come through and put a staple on an already successful season. Her two clinching wins came against Minnesota and Iowa to secure a fourth-seed for the Illini in the Big Ten Tournament, and helped them score their highest regular season finish since 2004.

    Illinois has strung together some impressive tennis under head coach Michelle Dasso's leadership in her second year at the helm. After a roller coaster year last season in which the Illini battled through injuries, faced 12 ranked teams that included four in the top 10 and worked with a young lineup that was headed by two freshman a sophomore and only one senior, the Illini are reaping the benefits in 2008 from those trials.

    So far, Illinois has used that experience to put together a 7-3 mark in Big Ten play this season to finish fourth in the regular season, a complete turnaround from a 1-9 mark and last-place finish in 2007.

    FUDGE NAMED BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE WEEK, AGAIN Sophomore Megan Fudge was first named Big Ten Player of the Week for the week ending Feb. 11 and now most recently for the week ending April 14, announced the conference office. Fudge was the first Illini women's tennis athlete to garner the accolade since Macall Harkins did it on April 19, 2006. Fudge is the first Illini to win the award twice in the same season.

    The Illinois women's tennis team entered the polls after an upset of No. 60 DePaul on Feb. 8, debuting at No. 68 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) tennis rankings on Feb. 12 and have since reached a season-high No. 43 (April 22). The Illini have dropped only one match this season to a team ranked lower than themselves entering a match.

    The No. 68 ranking at the beginning of the season was the first time the Illini had appeared in the ITA polls since March 28, 2006, when they came in at No. 70. Illinois' highest ranking in program history came on April 24, 2004, when the Illini were tabbed No. 16 before losing to then No. 23 Indiana (4-3) to fall back out of the top 20 the following week.

    Winning at No. 1 Singles 9-3
    Losing at No. 1 Singles 2-6
    Winning at No. 2 Singles 9-1
    Losing at No. 2 Singles 2-8
    Winning at No. 3 Singles 7-0
    Losing at No. 3 Singles 4-9
    Winning at No. 4 Singles 7-3
    Losing at No. 4 Singles 4-6
    Winning at No. 5 Singles 9-5
    Losing at No. 5 Singles 2-4
    Winning at No. 6 Singles 10-3
    Losing at No. 6 Singles 1-6

    Illinois will await its NCAA tournament fate with the selections for the team championships set to be announced the week following the Big Ten Tournament on Tuesday, April 29.

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