CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – No. 13-ranked Tennessee 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.”
Kata Szekely got Tennessee on the board with a 6-2, 6-0 win at No. 5 singles. Freshman Brynn Boren then topped No. 100-ranked Rachael White of Illinois, 6-3, 6-3 at No. 2 singles.
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.