To conclude its current homestand, IU women’s tennis will play its first Big Ten matches of the season this weekend.
IU will challenge No. 31 Illinois at 12:30 p.m. Friday and No. 13 Northwestern at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Both matches will be played at the IU Tennis Center.
“We’re really excited because the Big Ten season is when we get to see how everyone is stacking up,” sophomore MIchelle McKamey said. “Opening with the two strongest teams in the conference, it will give us a good gauge of where we are at and what we need to do better.”
Illinois, 5-6, and Northwestern, 7-5, are better than their records indicate. Each team loaded up its nonconference schedule this season. The two teams have already played a combined 11 top-25 opponents.
The Fighting Illini fell to three ranked opponents to begin their season, and then responded by winning five straight matches. Ever since, Illinois has found itself in another losing streak. Illinois lost 5-2 at Northwestern on March 1 to extend its losing streak to three matches.
The Wildcats are coming off a win against the Fighting Illini, but they have suffered five losses in 2019. Northwestern had a stretch at the beginning of its season where it faced six straight top-25 opponents. The Wildcats went 3-3 in those matches, but each win was in 4-3 fashion.
“We are going to have to play our good tennis,” IU Head Coach Ramiro Azcui said. “We’re not going to worry too much about Northwestern or Illinois. They are strong teams up and down the lineup, but we need to worry about ourselves.”
Azcui said if his team wants a fighting chance against either team this weekend, it will have to come out strong and play its best doubles. When playing a ranked team on your home courts, early momentum swings tend be crucial.
“When we win the doubles point we feel a lot more solid,” McKamey said. “It’s only worth one point, but when you start out on the right foot, that momentum carries over to single, and it might not last, but it at least lets us start the first set strong.”
IU’s No. 1 doubles pairing of senior Madison Appel and sophomore Jelly Bozovic has been anything but weak in 2019. The duo has gone 16-4 so far this season and recently picked up a No. 45 ranking from the Oracle/ITA Division I Women’s Rankings for doubles pairings.
“They’re a fun team to watch, I think they compliment each other so well,” Azcui said. “I’m happy they’re finally getting some recognition because they’re a duo that works so well together. They had some rough moments here and there, but I think that’s what stopped them from being recognized earlier.”
IU will have its hands full at home this weekend with a pair of marquee programs coming into the IU Tennis Center. The Hoosiers will benefit from their competition struggling on the road this season. After this weekend, however, IU will play seven of its next eight matches on the road.
“Every coach in the Big Ten knows going on the road is the toughest thing and I think they’re afraid of what to expect here at IU,” Azcui said. “I hope my players respond well to the challenge.”
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