In her first and final season at IU, senior Xiwei Cai is being recognized at the senior banquet in Assembly Hall on Sunday.
One year ago, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, announced it was cutting its women’s tennis program after it finished its 2017 spring season.
Cai led SIU-Carbondale in wins in her sophomore and junior season, typically playing at the No.1 and No. 2 spot in singles and doubles.
IU Coach Ramiro Azcui took notice of Cai the year before SIU cut its program. Cai beat then-sophomore Madison Appel 6-1, 6-2 at the No.1 spot in March 2016.
“When we saw the program was being cut, we reached out to her because we had an open scholarship that we needed to fill,” Azcui said. “It was perfect timing.”
SIU-Carbondale traveled to Bloomington in its final season. IU won 7-0, and this time Appel beat Cai 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Azcui said Cai’s official visit with IU started 30 minutes after the match. Cai stretched, showered and then went to a team dinner with IU to get to know the team. Azcui said she was impressed with the school and she liked the team right off the bat.
Cai could have stayed at SIU-Carbondale for her senior year and gotten her degree this spring, but she chose to prolong her academic career by transferring to IU and playing her final year of collegiate eligibility.
A native of Tianjin, China, Cai has been playing tennis since she was 8 years old. She was devastated when SIU-Carbondale cut its women’s tennis program, but she said she is thankful she had the opportunity to have a senior season at IU.
Cai said her favorite memory at IU was March 31 during the match against Iowa. IU was down 3-1 and ended up winning the match 4-3 when Cai clinched in a three-setter.
“Everyone just ran towards me and our team hugged each other,” Cai said. “I love the way we cheer and fight for each other in the matches.”
Cai’s mom, Xin Dong will be flying 6,781 miles from Beijing to see Cai play in her final home matches and to see her recognized at the senior banquet.
IU plays No. 35 Ohio State on Friday and Penn State on Sunday in its home finale.
Ohio State has three ranked singles players and two ranked doubles teams. Senior Anna Sanford is ranked No. 54, freshman Shiori Fukuda is ranked No. 105 and senior Olivia Sneed is ranked No. 119. In doubles, Fukuda and freshman Maria Tyrina are ranked No. 70, and Fukuda and Sanford are ranked No. 3.
Azcui said it is a great opportunity for his players to compete against a strong Ohio State program bolstered by its three ranked players. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten Conference last season and beat IU 7-0 in Columbus last year.
Azcui said there are a lot of things he is taking into consideration for doubles. He said he is looking at new and old formations and there are many different directions he could go based on how practice goes the next few days.
“The good thing is I don’t have to turn in the lineup until an hour before the match,” Azcui said. “With just outside two weeks to go before the Big Ten Tournament, I am still going to be looking for the best combinations and see who is most ready to play.”
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