Jan. 23, 2011
By Donnie Conley, Media Relations Student Assistant
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The No. 13-ranked University of Tennessee Lady Vol tennis team opened its season in style on Sunday, defeating No. 25 Illinois, 4-3, at the Atkins Tennis Center.
UT recorded the victory despite losing the doubles point. After splitting matches at No. 1 and 3 doubles, Breanne Smutko and Chelcie Abajian of Illinois topped ninth-ranked Rosalía Alda and Millie Nichols of UT, 9-8. Smutko and Abajian took the tiebreaker, 7-5 to give the Fighting Illini the doubles point.
Co-head coach Sonia Hahn-Patrick said that the doubles outcomes motivated the team to come out of the gate strong in singles play.
"We had the momentum for a while in doubles and we just lost it," Hahn-Patrick said. After losing the doubles point, I think it really fired up the team and helped them understand that they had to get off to a good start in singles."
The Lady Volunteers did just that, taking four of six singles matches en route to a season-opening victory.
Tennessee also benefited from having Natalie Pluskota in the singles lineup for the first time in a dual match since Feb. 14, 2010. Pluskota recorded wins at No. 1 singles and doubles and provided a big boost for UT.
"It makes a huge difference in our lineup," Hahn-Patrick said. "She is a leader of our team and she plays in the high part of the lineup. It helps our whole team as far as putting people in positions to win. She had a lot of energy today."
Pluskota was victorious at No. 1 singles over Smutko, 6-3, 6-4. Nichols then clinched the victory for the Big Orange with a 6-2, 6-2 win at No. 6 singles.
Tennessee will be back in action next weekend as it christens the newly-renovated Goodfriend Indoor Tennis Center by hosting the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. The Big Orange will face No. 33 Ohio State at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The winner of that contest will face the winner of a match between No. 18 Ole Miss and No. 27 SMU for the right to advance to the ITA Team Indoor Championships.
Hahn-Patrick said that the weekend will be a good challenge for the Lady Vols.
"They're all tough teams," Hahn-Patrick said. "To play at home is always a huge advantage. It was good that we had a tough match today because it showed us things to work on and spots where we can get better. We'll look at our lineup and see what singles players and doubles teams that we need to put in. The girls are excited to play at home."
Fans are reminded to follow the Lady Vols on Twitter at www.twitter.com/UTLadyVols.
#13 Tennessee 4, #25 Illinois 3
1. Natalie Pluskota (TENN) def. Breanne Smutko (ILL) 6-3, 6-4
2. #20 Brynn Boren (TENN) def. #100 Rachael White (ILL) 6-3, 6-3
3. Chelcie Abajian (ILL) def. #87 Rosalia Alda (TENN) 7-5, 2-6, 10-3
4. Amy Allin (ILL) def. #116 Maria Sorbello (TENN) 6-4, 6-4
5. Kata Szekely (TENN) def. Misia Kedzierski (ILL) 6-2, 6-0
6. Millie Nichols (TENN) def. Allison Falkin (ILL) 6-2, 6-2
1. Brynn Boren/Natalie Pluskota (TENN) def. #15 Rachael White/Allison Falkin (ILL) 8-6
2. Breanne Smutko/Chelcie Abajian (ILL) def. #9 Rosalia Alda/Millie Nichols (TENN) 9-8 (7-5)
3. Marisa Lambropoulos/Amy Allin (ILL) def. Whitney Wofford/Kata Szekely (TENN) 8-3
Order of finish: Doubles (3,1,2); Singles (5,2,1,6,3,4)