In their first match of the season, the Maroons traveled to Urbana-Champaign this past weekend to take on the Fighting Illini.
Against its DI opponents, Chicago lost 7–0, dropping six singles matches and two of three doubles matches against Illinois.
“Playing Illinois was one of the most fun matches I’ve ever played. There was no pressure because it was against a DI school, so we all went for our shots and played extremely well,” third-year Megan Tang said.
Although underdogs in their most recent matchup, the Maroons are coming off a stellar past season, going 18–6 last year and currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the country in DIII. The South Siders will be working hard this year to match last year’s success, after graduating four All-Americans and going to the NCAA quarterfinals.
Already, the team is committed to surpassing last season, as members have begun taking on more responsibility.
“I’m proud of the ownership and pride the girls have taken in the team. They are determined to leave the program in better shape than they found it and have worked very hard to do so. It’s been fun to watch the second- and third-years mature into leaders and caretakers of the program and teach the newcomers what it takes to be successful on the national stage,” head coach Jay Tee said. “Also, we made a decision as a team after last year’s NCAA tournament that we would commit to getting bigger, faster, and stronger in order to compete with the top teams.”
The Maroons’ hard work certainly paid off against Illinois, as second-year Helen Sdvizhkov forced her opponent to three sets and the doubles tandem of first-year Jordan Appel and second-year Stephanie Lee won its doubles match.
“As my first official team match in my collegiate tennis career, it was intimidating competing against a Big Ten school, but at the same time, a nearly pressure-free situation because [the outcome seemed predetermined]. It turned out to not be nearly as intimidating as everyone expected,” Appel said.
Having a more relaxed atmosphere certainly seemed to help the duo surprise its opponents.
“Steph [Lee] and Jordan [Appel] always look like they’re having fun when they play together. Their carefree spirit definitely helps them stay relaxed in the big moments. They stared down two very tough Big Ten opponents and never blinked,” Tee said.
Though the Maroons lost to Illinois, the experience coupled with their hard work over the past two weeks has fueled their expectations for the season.
“It was an absolutely incredible experience. We traveled to a Big Ten arena and took on the 44th-best team the country has to offer and we came away with not only a doubles victory, but also a new outlook on the season. We need to build on this experience and use it as motivation to get better each and every practice,” Tee said.
On February 8, Chicago will travel to Granville and Gambier, OH to face Denison and Kenyon colleges, respectively.